Rescuers are warning boaters and anglers that the log jam that claimed the life of a boater in July last year is still very much a threat.
Kitimat Search and Rescue’s Manny Arruda said the log jam, located on the Kitimat River downstream from the Red Bridge, or 18 Mile Bridge, is unavoidable for anyone launching a boat upstream.
“It goes right across the whole river. It’s totally unsafe for anybody to be launching from the bridge,” said Arruda. “There’s no way of getting around the log jam – you come around the corner and it’s right there.”
He said the majority of people that get into difficulties on the Kitimat River are not local and that this is of particular concern to authorities as Kitimat braces itself for an influx of people who will be working on major projects in the district and who are unfamiliar to conditions on the river.
“A lot of people don’t know that the log jam is still in place and is not passable. The fatalities that we’ve had on the river are mostly tourists, people not familiar with the river,” said Arruda.
The boater who died in 2018 was part of a group of four who went down the river in three boats which capsized after hitting the first of two log jams.
Six Kitimat searchers and eight Terrace swiftwater rescue team members, as well as Kitimat firefighters and RCMP members, were involved in the search for the missing boater.
The second log jam, situated a short distance further down the river, is equally as dangerous as the first.
Arruda said anyone visiting the area wanting to go down the river should first consult with locals who have up-to-date knowledge of conditions on the river.
“Boaters and anglers not familiar with the river and who can’t see what’s around a bend should pull up on the slow side of the river, check for hazards and relaunch,” said Arruda.
He said sadly some of the deaths on the river might have been avoided had boaters been wearing life jackets.
“People we have recovered or who were never found didn’t have life jackets on. Compliance on the Kitimat River is very low – we’re at the point where people just aren’t getting it,” said Arruda. “It’s no fun pulling bodies out of the river.
“It’s law that there are life jackets on the boats. What people don’t realize is that they don’t always have time to get them on when they get into trouble,” he added.
Wearing a life jacket gives capsized boaters a “fighting chance,” and if worst comes to worst, it makes recovering the bodies easier for searchers.
He said while there is some compliance on the Kitimat River, clients need to question why any guide operator doesn’t insist they wear life jackets.
As summer approaches, KSAR and the RCMP are going to embark on an aggressive awareness campaign in collaboration with local fishing stores and guide outfits.
The RCMP will be conducting random patrols along the river to check that boaters are complying with life jacket requirements.
Arruda encouraged anyone not familiar with the river to check with local fishing stores as well and for boaters to launch their boats at the Cable Car slipway.
Another initiative is the creation of a Facebook page, Kitimat River Updates, for conditions on the Kitimat River, which Arruda said will go live within the next two weeks.
The page will not only be used to post footage of hazards like log jams, but will also allow the public to post updates and footage as well. Due to the nature of rivers, the course changes frequently, creating new hazards constantly.
When the Northern Sentinel visited the launch site below the bridge, temporary signs had been erected warning of the dangers posed by log jams.