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Treacherous waters believed to be cause of death for two Vernon men

Cool water laps against the shore at the Kalamalka boat launch.
May 22, 2013 - 5:03 PM

According to Vernon Search and Rescue, the men found dead in Kalamalka Lake Wednesday morning would only have lasted 45 minutes in the water before succumbing to hypothermia.

Search manager Leigh Pearson suspects drowning was the primary cause of death, but says the cold lake temperature was likely a secondary factor. Eventually, a coroner's report will explain what happened to the two 50-something Vernon men who went on a boating trip and never came back, but for now, Pearson says it's a good guess they were tossed from their boat in a storm Tuesday, becoming victims of treacherously cold and stormy water.

"This time of year, the water is very cold," Pearson says. "It may feel warm if you stick your hand in at the surface, but just a few feet down it's much, much colder."

Someone stranded in the lake wouldn't have long before hypothermia set in. "Cold water zaps your energy 100 times faster than air the same temperature," Pearson says.

Dan St. Hilaire with the Ministry of Environment says the water was likely under 15 C over the weekend based on temperatures taken from nearby water bodies. Nearby Wood Lake had a surface temperature of 13 C and an eight meter deep temperature of under ten degrees when last measured on May 14. On Wednesday, Coldstream Creek, which feeds into Kalamalka Lake, was a reported 9 C.

"When we're doing our measurements, anything below 15 C is considered cold water, and we have to wear protective clothing," St. Hilaire says.

The two Vernon men did not have protective clothing. They were found floating in Cosens Bay, wearing lifejackets, early Wednesday morning, but Pearson says the safety gear wasn't enough to save them.

"The PDFs were poorly fitted, which is just about as bad as not wearing them at all," Pearson says.

The bodies, the overturned boat, and a deceased poodle were all found together in Cosens Bay, but Pearson says they could easily have drifted from another part of the lake.

"With the high wind speeds we were getting from the storm, they could have travelled a great distance from where they crashed," Pearson says.

It took roughly one hour for 18 search and rescue volunteers alongside police to find the bodies after a walker noticed the dog and a cooler bobbing just offshore in Cosens Bay. Pearson says the identities of the men were determined by wallets found on the boat. Local RCMP say the men were expected home Tuesday and are in the process of contacting their families.

Pearson says there were several victims to Kalamalka Lake in 2011, and none in 2012. Often, the missing bodies of boaters are never found. "There are instances where the bodies are lost forever," Pearson says. "There's a place between Cosens Bay and Turtle's Head (Rattlesnake) Point where the water is over 600 feet deep. If a body goes down there, it doesn't come up."

Some families will never find the remains of their loved ones, and Pearson says that can be the hardest part of losing someone. "People say it brings closure to find the bodies, but even when they do, it's still a huge, terrible shock."

The RCMP has wrapped up its probe into this week's deaths, and the file is now in the hands of the B.C. Coroners Service.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call (250)309-5230.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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