The search for Ethan Sampson by family and friends continues along the Cowichan River, but the official ground search was temporarily called off on Jan. 31 as a result of weather conditions and flooding.
The volunteers from Cowichan Search and Rescue, and units from the RCMP, who were involved in the first two days of the search for the 28-year-old Cowichan Tribes man who has been missing since the evening of Jan. 30, remained on standby as of Thursday morning.
Sampson was last seen at 10:40 p.m. on the night of Jan. 30 in the fast-moving Cowichan River running along Quamichan Road West.
SAR search manager Patty Abbott said the heavy rain and the severe flooding that hit the Cowichan Valley on Jan. 31 caused water levels in the Cowichan River to rise too high for the volunteers with SAR to safely continue to search for Sampson.
“Swiftwater environments are unforgiving and relentless, and we always proceed with caution when water is concerned,” she said.
“We put safety first and won’t put lives in danger. We have swift water technicians monitoring the water levels in the river and they are still considered too high to resume our search at this time, and more rain is forecast. We’ll have further conversations in regards to this search when water levels go down and we decide that it is safe for our members.”
Abbott said that on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, SAR had plans to have air support assist in the search for Sampson, but they had to be cancelled due to the weather.
“We had air support in place [on Friday], but the helicopter crew were not able to leave their Nanaimo base,” she said.
“On Saturday, we also had in place plans to have members of North Shore assist us by air but, due to the extreme flooding, these plans were also cancelled. It’s unlikely air support would be able to see anything until the water levels drop. There’s just so much water to deal with now.”
A press release from the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment issued Wednesday afternoon said the detachment’s First Nations Community Policing unit remains engaged with the family and community members in the search for Sampson.
“The RCMP are working with Cowichan Search and Rescue, the RCMP Underwater Recovery team as well as RCMP marine units to monitor river conditions and safely resume searching when they improve,” the release said.
“Conditions around the Cowichan River bank remain extremely dangerous and members of the public should remain a safe distance from the river at this time.”
But dozens of community volunteers have continued the search this week.
Shawn Wagar and Jason Wilson, both from Chemainus, brought along their drone on Wednesday to search along the river for Sampson from the sky.
Emily Charlie, a friend of Sampson who was also searching along the river bank on Wednesday, said she’s finding the disappearance of Sampson difficult.
“I’ve been involved in searches before, but it’s a lot harder when you know the person well,” she said.
“I fished this river with Ethan. We grew up together. He knows the river well. The river changes each day. It’s unpredictable.”