The South Cariboo Search and Rescue (SC-SAR) team pulled off a dicey ice recovery after a body was discovered on the partially-frozen Fraser River just after 2 p.m. on Jan. 2.
The RCMP’s North District Major Crime Unit (NCO) has identified the deceased male as 22-year-old Jesse Frank of Williams Lake.
After Williams Lake RCMP received a report of a body under the Rudy Johnson Bridge near Soda Creek, the SC-SAR team was called in to deploy its ice rescue skills – or in this case, recovery – skills.
SC-SAR rescue team leader James Seeley says eight members responded to a request for mutual aid to assist three members of the Central Cariboo Search and Rescue group.
It was a first time the local group had gone out on the huge river for any recovery or rescue attempt, but it proves its members’ level of expertise, he notes.
“The Fraser is a really difficult situation. [Usually if victims] go on the Fraser River they are gone, that’s how dynamic it is.”
Upon the SC-SAR members’ arrival around 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 3, they had to wait for the crime scene processing to wrap up before Seeley deployed the team’s highly skilled members.
The rescue team leader says two members, Mark Seilis and Dani Kidston, led the recovery with ropes rigged to the bridge, towing the recovery basket down an almost 100-foot embankment covered in loose rocks.
“Our members who went down are ice rescue trained and rope rescue trained and … our team spends the time to practice all this.”
Seeley notes where the river narrows at the bridge, the packed ice jammed up and formed a moving, changing ice crust over the river.
The recovery duo traversed out onto this broken and moving ice floe over the powerful river currents, he explains.
Seilis used a pole to prod the ice, a crucial step when it is constantly changing, Seeley says, adding he was told the ice had only formed two days before.
“You are not sure how thick it is at any one time, and there is a huge current of water underneath constantly eroding it … we saw the channel open up at least 50 metres, then pack closed and then open up again.
“Right under the bridge, if the ice gave way then we had control of our members and they were not in any danger. And they went down with protective gear on [such as] Gore-Tex dry suits.”
Seeley says the rest of the team manned ropes and gear at the top of the bank to assist with the recovery, which took about two hours to accomplish.
It was a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. effort for the SC-SAR team, he notes.
“It was a long day – cold, at -15; big wind and wind chill; and just terrible conditions to be out in. So, I really have to sing the praises of the team that went out there because it’s also their volunteer time and their dedication to train to do this.”
Seeley adds the crew seized a fortuitous window of opportunity in the moving ice floe to ensure the members would be safe.
“We take our training seriously, we do things professionally, and everybody comes home safe at the end of the day.”
The cause of Frank’s death is not being released, but NCO media relations RCMP Cpl. Dave Tyreman says the incident is being investigated as a targeted homicide, and the public is not at risk.