Cultus Lake Drowning in July 2020: He Could Have Been Saved
An Overview of This Article
At tragedy has occurred in Entrance Bay at Cultus Lake (located in British Columbia, Canada). Despite this being a fairly local event, there are some lessons that everyone can learn from it.
The incident has already been covered to an extent by all of the major news sources of the region, but only quick summaries of the tragedy were shared and with inconsistent details.
This article will contain a detailed and illustrated first-person bystander account of what really happened before and after the arrival of emergency services.
I will also discuss something that official news sources most likely would refuse to publish, even if they knew what happened: the victim could have been retrieved from the water much faster and he could have been saved.
This event should serve as a warning for all of us, both swimmers and nonswimmers. Bodies of water can be unpredictable and are especially dangerous for those that do not know how to swim. As the recent example shows, not only kids are at risk of drowning. See the end of the article for some tips on how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe while enjoying the water.
About Cultus Lake
Cultus Lake is a provincial park in British Columbia (Canada). It is located around 10 km from the nearest town, Chilliwack. Cultus Lake is a popular hotspot for summer fun and offers a number of attractions, such as campgrounds, BC's largest waterpark, the Cultus Lake Adventure Park, hiking, and of course boat rentals and day-use areas.
The day-use areas are great for having a picnic or barbecue with your family and friends. Boating and other water sports are also popular among visitors. The water in Cultus Lake heats up quite a bit during the summer months, which makes swimming and just splashing around an enjoyable experience.
However, some precautions must be taken if you don't want your fun day out to turn into a nightmare. There is no lifeguard on duty in the day-use areas, so nonswimmers and young children should not be left unattended. There are also plenty of posted signs warning of steep drop-offs. Although there are parts where the water stays shallow for a while, these warnings should not be ignored. The lakewater tends to be cloudy, so it's difficult to see a drop-off before it's too late. For nonswimmers, suddenly not being able to touch the ground most likely will result in panic and possibly drowning if help isn't near.
The Incident Has Already Been Covered by Local News Sources, But Vital Information is Missing and Details are Inconsistent
- Coroner, RCMP investigate Cultus Lake drowning - BC | Globalnews.ca
Emergency crews were called to the popular Fraser Valley swimming spot around 3 p.m.
- UPDATE: RCMP confirm drowning death at Cultus Lake – Abbotsford News
Unidentified adult confirmed deceased after drowning at Entrance Bay
- No evidence of criminality in Cultus Lake drowning, RCMP say | CTV News
Mounties in the Fraser Valley say an adult has drowned in Cultus Lake Saturday afternoon.
- Man dies after drowning in Cultus Lake - NEWS 1130
A man is dead after an apparent drowning in Cultus Lake Saturday.
Prior to the Arrival of Emergency Personnel
My account is quite different from what has already been reported by the media. It is based on what I observed while being within a few meters of the victim and his friends when they entered the water.
This is What Happened:
A group of adults entered the water around 60 meters to the right of the dock shortly before 3 pm on Saturday, July 25, 2020. There were either 5 or 6 of them in total and it appeared that they were good friends. They were visiting Cultus Lake as a group with women, kids, and a few other men (all of them stayed onshore).
The group of friends most likely didn't see the warning signs about the steep drop-off or maybe they didn't pay attention to it since their main intent was to just play around in the water close to shore. This was what they did at first. They were joking around, splashing each other, laughing and talking loudly in their language.
Then, suddenly, two of the friends began waving their hands in the air and yelling. I would assume that it was a plea for help, but since they yelled it in their language and the group was previously talking very loudly, none of the bystanders paid any attention to it. It seems that those two had taken a step back and began to panic when they were no longer able to touch the ground. They didn't know how to swim, so they began to freak out and consequently swallow water.
It appeared that their other friends didn't know how to swim either. Instead of reaching out an arm to their buddies, the other guys ran ashore, still yelling in their language, so no one really paid much attention to the commotion, except for the other people that these guys were with.
The guys approached a bystander that had a paddleboard and kept repeating "Someone's drowning!" in English. By this time, only one of the drowning men was still well visible above the surface of the water. He was helped onto the paddleboard, but the other man had already disappeared underwater. He was no more than 2-3 meters from the shore. However, the lake water was cloudy, so it was difficult to see far below the surface.
The Initial Search Efforts
The commotion caused more people to gather and able-bodied swimmers began searching for the man and several bystanders lent goggles. Boat and paddleboard owners also helped to scour the surface. Someone called 911 and more people joined the search while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.
All of this happened in a matter of minutes and people were searching in the approximate location where the man was last seen (and also where he was eventually found). A few minutes more and he would have been found and saved.
Arrival of Police to the Scene
The police were the first emergency personnel to arrive at the scene and this was when everything changed.
They forced everyone to climb out of the water, including those that were actively searching for the drowned man. In a way, this makes sense since they didn't want more people to drown in the commotion. However, there were a number of confident adult swimmers with goggles participating in the search. Those should have been allowed to stay, especially since it was a few minutes before one of the officers dived into the lake.
The female officer went off to change while the male officer stayed at the scene recording personal accounts of witnesses and the victim's friends. Precious time got wasted since no one was allowed back into the water.
The female officer returned and bravely dived in, but to no avail. At first, she took a quick look under the water near the shore and then further away, with the help of some boaters. However, she was searching far from where the victim was last seen and it is extremely unlikely that a man who doesn't know how to swim would float so far away while drowning. During this time, beachgoers still were not allowed back into the water and nobody was searching where the man initially disappeared below the surface.
The Arrival of More Emergency Personnel
Firefighters, paramedics, more police officers, and even park rangers appeared soon after. There was also an RCMP helicopter hovering above the lake. Everything was ready to get the victim to a hospital as soon as possible. The emergency personnel themselves, however, were not ready nor organized.
The Incident was Handled Extremely Ineffectively
Time was passing and with every minute that passed, the victim had less and less chances of survival. They had people there with goggles, life jackets, and scuba diving equipment, yet they stood there for a number of minutes, just talking. They most likely were discussing and organizing something, but why couldn't they send someone in the water to search near the surface with proper equipment?
Even when they did send someone in, it was just one person who floated on the surface in goggles and a life jacket. The rest of them just continued talking. The firefighters and their oxygen tanks never even made it into the water.
Another cop dived in and he received some help from boaters. The rest of the emergency staff just stood on the shore.
Eventually, another first responder (or maybe firefighter) dived in, for some reason in a helmet. This went on for a few minutes.
Some bystanders couldn't resist and dived in as well. A few minutes later, at around 3:50 pm, the victim's body was retrieved from the lake. He was unfortunately already dead at the time.
The Victim Could Have Been Saved; Here's Why
The search and rescue mission was organized very unprofessionally by the emergency personnel. They were searching far from where the man drowned and wasted too much time talking. They sent their people into the water 1-2 at a time and the firefighters with the oxygen tanks, who were the most prepared, never even went in.
The beachgoers, on the other hand, began searching as soon as they discovered that someone had drowned. There were many people scouring the approximate location where the man drowned. The body was eventually found in that location. Other bystanders provided goggles and some people went out in their boats to help look. Another person called 911 while the others were searching.
The search attempted by the bystanders wasn't professional, but it was efficient and it was started mere minutes after the man disappeared below the surface. A few minutes would have made all the difference. If the police officers didn't kick everyone out of the water when they arrived, the victim would have been found and he would have lived.
Witnessing this drowning firsthand made me realize not only how dangerous seemingly calm lakes can be, but also how inefficient emergency personnel is when dealing with time-sensitive issues. This could very well have been an exception to the norm, but it made me scared of not receiving adequate help should something happen to me. In this incident, even though emergency services arrived quickly, it took some time for them to act. They had proper training and equipment, but for some reason, they hesitated before entering the water. It also came to me as bizarre that they didn't ask the dozens of witnesses that were standing on the shore where the man really disappeared. This information would have helped them to search in the right place sooner.
Unfortunately, what happened has already happened and we cannot change the past, but we can use this tragedy as a lesson and a warning to never underestimate bodies of water nor overestimate our abilities.
Enjoy the Water Safely
Below are some tips and recommendations for enjoying lakes and other bodies of water safely:
- Stay in the designated swimming area (if there is one). It is usually free from sudden drop-offs and its size makes it easier to find someone should something happen
- Supervise children even if they are just playing on the beach or already had swimming lessons. Children are unpredictable and even those that know how to swim may panic when they realize that they can't reach the bottom
- Don't leave nonswimmers unattended. This applies to both children and adults. Don't allow them to go too far into the water even if it may seem to be shallow at first. It is also a good idea to give these individuals a floatation device. A life jacket is ideal since it is meant to be a lifesaving device. However, even a floatie can be useful since it gives nonswimmers something to hold on to and can help them stay afloat if they accidentally go too far
- Don't ignore posted warnings, especially those that warn of strong currents and steep drop-offs. They are there for a reason
- Learn to swim and sign your kids up for swimming lessons. Knowing how to swim provides more confidence when in the water and you never know, you may need to save a drowning friend someday.
If you are representing a news agency and are interested in more details about the event and/or photos/videos, please reach out to me privately.
© 2020 Janisa