August 10, 2015 - 11:59 AM
HAPPY ENDING FOLLOWS FRANTIC SEARCH FOR YOUNG GIRLS STRANDED IN OKANAGAN LAKE
OKANAGAN - Even after finding the inflatable kayak floating empty in the middle of Okanagan Lake on Saturday, a retired fire chief didn’t give up the search for a pair of young girls who were supposed to be in it.
The girls, aged 11 and 12 from Virginia Beach, Virginia had left their grandparent’s place on the west side of Okanagan Lake roughly two hours earlier, Aug. 8, in an inflatable kayak. It was now close to 9 p.m. and getting dark.
Wayne Carson, a retired fire chief of 20 years, didn’t hesitate to jump on his Seadoo and help look for them after hearing family members yelling and screaming outside his home on Westside Road. They’d been scanning the water with binoculars and thought they saw the boat offshore.
“I expected to go out and find the two girls, probably without a paddle, adrift somewhere and pull them back to shore,” Carson says. “When I arrived at the boat, it was empty. My heart just dropped.”
By then, another boat owner had offered to bring the family out, and Carson says they ‘pretty much went into shock’ when they saw the empty kayak floating about 500 metres offshore.
“I asked them whether or not the girls were wearing life jackets,” Carson says. “I guess just as they’d been leaving, their aunt saw they had no life jackets on and called them back. The adults chastised them, put them in life jackets and sent them out again. Right then and there, I knew we had a shot.”
Carson phoned 911 and was told resources were on the way. With daylight fading fast, he wasted no time launching a quadrant search on his Seadoo, starting in a pie-shaped pattern around the kayak.
“It had been about five minutes when I just barely caught some movement out the corner of my eye,” Carson says. “I found them. They’d stuck together — good girls. They were trying to help each other.”
Chattering teeth broke into smiles of relief as Carson pulled them out of the water onto his Seadoo. They were exhausted, but alive.
The pair had underestimated the impact of the wind, particularly on their light, inflatable kayak, and it hadn’t taken long for them to drift a good distance from the beach. One of the girls was a strong swimmer and decided to get into the water and try towing the kayak back to shore. That’s when her sister fell out and the boat quickly blew away, leaving them stranded roughly 350 metres from shore.
“They said several boats had gone by and they’d been yelling and waving,” Carson says. “It’s one of those things, you think you hear someone yelling for help, but with the wind and being out on the middle of the lake… it’s hard to know where the noises are coming from.”
Plus, it would have been difficult for someone to spot them, Carson says, even if they had heard the cries for help.
“These girls could barely wave. You’re basically looking for nine inches of arm coming out of the lake,” Carson says. “One of the girls was so cold she could barely even move.”
Carson shudders to think about what would have happened had the girls not been wearing life jackets, and hopes the close call will serve as a reminder for everyone.
“Without the lifejackets, it would not have ended this way. We’d be looking at a tragedy,” Carson says.
The girls were checked out by B.C. Ambulance personnel for water inhalation and exposure, but are doing fine.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015