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One dead, two rescued from rapids after going over Stamp Falls near Port Alberni

Jul 16 2012

One man is dead and two women were rescued from the rapids after the three went over the Stamp Falls near Port Alberni in inner tubes Sunday afternoon.

Police say the three from Qualicum Beach were unfamiliar with the river and entered the water with their tubes above the falls at Stamp River Provincial Park.

“Each tuber unexpectedly went over the dangerous falls and was unable to remain on their float,” said Port Alberni RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Jen Allan.

RCMP issued a warning in late June following a tubing mishap where a woman almost died when she was pinned under a log.

Around 4 p.m., Port Alberni RCMP received a call from a woman on the banks of the Stamp River saying she had just seen a body floating down the river in an area known as Money’s Pool, said Allan. Minutes later, others called to report two women in distress in the rapidly flowing area just beyond the falls. One woman was stuck on a ledge about six metres above the river and the other was clinging to a rock in the river.

Witness Dave Campbell said he watched three people fumbling to get on the river in their tubes just before 3 p.m. Shortly after, Campbell said, a man floated by face-down.

“Rick Carlson dove in to save him but the water was moving too fast,” Campbell added.

His friend phoned 911 while they tried to find the other two people.

Alberni search and rescue’s swift water rescue team rappelled down the steep banks with two kayaks to get to the women, said rescue technician Erik Waldriff.

“The two women were on either side of the river, kind of stuck in precarious positions just above the water line,” Waldriff said. They were in bathing suits and had no life jackets.

Four rescuers in two five-metre kayaks made it to the women, using a tethered rope system to slow the boats against the fast-moving water in order to pull the two into the boats around 5:30 p.m.

“The girls were at first definitely ecstatic to be off the rock and safe but when they got to safety, very emotional,” Waldriff said. He said they were banged up but lucky to be alive.

Waldriff said the water before the falls is the second most difficult rating for kayakers, a class four, and the falls itself is a class five, which only the most experienced kayakers would brave in proper safety equipment and life jackets.

“Certainly no one in an inflatable boat would ever want to go over it,” he said. 

The male tuber, a 22-year-old man, did not survive. His body was stopped by civilians on the river in an area called Eagle Rock.

Search and rescue volunteers and firefighters from Beaver Creek Volunteer Fire Department faced major challenges when trying to recover the body from the river’s edge.

Firefighters carried the women and the body on stretchers, about a half an hour walk through the forest, to the awaiting ambulances at Beaver Creek Road.

The women in their early 20s had bumps and bruises and were taken to West Coast General Hospital around 8:30 p.m.

“The girls were obviously shaken,” said search and rescue manager Dave Poulsen. “They were wet and had clung to the rocks for some time but,

all in all, they’ll see another day so they’re doing well.”

Poulsen said the women were lucky the water levels were higher because that meant there weren’t as many jagged, exposed rocks at the base of the falls.

B.C. Coroners Service is investigating the man’s death. His identity has not been released.

Port Alberni RCMP issued a stern warning about the river on June 26, when several tubers unable to navigate the raging water nearly drowned.

“Each summer the river attracts hundreds of tubers looking for the thrills it can offer,” Allan said. “However, this incident is yet another tragic reminder of the dangers the river poses to the inexperienced visitors to the area.”

Poulsen said the rescue team responds to a death on the Stamp River every one or two years.

— with files from Port Alberni Times