"HE DIED A HERO TO HIS CHILDREN, THE SAD THING IS HIS CHILDREN WITNESSED IT"
KELOWNA - While most families were enjoying the first holiday of the summer last weekend, one family was confronted with a life-changing tragedy.
Last Saturday George Klein was vacationing with his family at a beach on Wood Lake, but later that afternoon his body was recovered by a search and rescue team. The 42-year-old Whitehorse man drowned shortly after jumping into the lake to rescue three young boys caught in a strong current.
Two of the boys were his sons. Klein had plunged into water where the Vernon Creek flows into the lake and though the freshet season is over, the water was still high and very turbid.
Kokanee Beach Resort hotel manager Dave Nahal says Klein, his family and relatives were all staying at the resort to attend a wedding that weekend.
“There was a lot of water in the creek...the day before I saw heavy water coming in," Nahal says.
It's a lot less choppy today he says, looking out at the waters that extinguished Klein's life.
“I was told he jumped off the dock at the end and was sucked right down,” Nahal says of an accident otherwise unheard of in the area.
Vernon Search and Rescue manager Coralie Nairn was there to recover Klein's body and says though the water was about 17 feet deep, the surface current was strong that day.
"There's a bit of shelf there... The current is probably the top two feet," she says, adding that underneath the water was fairly calm.
It was also cold - a major factor in swimming accidents, Nairn says.
"It's the shock value, especially if they're diving in... There's a gasp reflex and they swallow water."
Nairn happened to be in Winfield that day and recognized the emergency immediately from the circling pattern of the RCMP helicopters overhead. When she arrived on scene with her team and the Central Okanagan Search and Rescue, firefighters were already in the water searching for the body. The 911 call came in two hours prior.
In most cases there is only 30 minutes for a successful rescue, "but even three minutes can be fatal," she says.
Her first priority was speaking with RCMP to ensure Klein's family members were away from the scene and being looked after.
“I don't like children to see somebody come up from the water,” she says.
At that point they launched a jet boat and a pontoon boat with specialized search equipment allowing them to detect the victim through the murky water. Using sonar and a remote operated underwater vehicle it took the search team only 16 minutes to locate the victim's body. They secured Klein's body until the RCMP dive team arrived to retrieve him.
“From my knowledge I can't think of anything he did wrong," Nairn says.
"He jumped off a warf and attempted a rescue on his own.”
A natural instinct Nairn herself would act upon if she saw a child in harm's way.
“I think he died a hero to his children, the sad thing is his children witnessed it."
There's always opportunity for better water awareness, she says, which could mean wearing a pull-tab life jacket. While there have been several drownings in the Okanagan this year they typically happened during stormy weather and in choppy water - they weren't simple swimming accidents.
RCMP Const. Kris Clark says there have been few such incidents on Wood Lake.
"We have had drownings on Wood Lake but they typically happen in winter when someone falls through the ice or a traffic crash," he says. Last year a woman from Salmon Arm crashed into the lake and in the winter someone riding a bike across the lake fell through the ice.
Clark says extra caution is needed when swimming near tributaries with an abundance of water.
"A tributary is going to cause a visible current but when you're in the water it's not as easy to see that current," he says.
With plenty of hot sunny weather ahead, lakes and beaches throughout the Okanagan will be seeing more visitors keen on swimming.
Nairn is hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Investigation into Klein's drowning is ongoing and a coroner's report will be released to explain the cause of death.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at email@example.com or call (250)718-0428.