On Sunday, May 13, Kevin Hewer, his sister Samantha, and two nieces Onna 15, and Lanita 17, had to be pulled from the Cowichan River by members of the Lake Cowichan Fire Department, RCMP and Ambulance.
Hewer and his family had travelled up from Victoria to take advantage of the sunny weather and spend some time on the water. However, shortly after launching, they found themselves in trouble.
Hewer says he was in his kayak and his sister and two nieces were travelling down the river in an inflatable couch. Somewhere near the bend in the river by the end of Kingfisher Road, Hewer’s sister and her daughters got snagged. When Hewer tried to help them manoeuvre, both his kayak and their inflatable overturned. The women were able to climb onto a log, but Hewer was pulled down the river hanging on to his overturned kayak with an inner tube floating behind him. Somehow he managed to get onto the inner tube and get out of the freezing water.
Hewer managed to grab on to a branch along the bank of the river just above Little Beach and a woman living along the river offered to call 911. Hewer says that at first he told her he was okay because he felt embarrassed for having ended up in that situation.
When the Fire Department showed up, Hewer was still clutching the branch and using a shoe to bail out his kayak. He says he didn’t realize how shallow the water was or he would have just stepped into the river and turned the boat on it’s side.
Once firefighters were in position at Little Beach, the boat was bailed, and Hewer was once again in the kayak, Fire Chief Doug Knott told Hewer to let go of the branch and paddle as hard as he could, across the current to the opposite bank where firefighters were waiting.
Hewer had to paddle hard, using his shoes as paddles, and ran out of steam before he could reach the rope firefighters had thrown out for him to grab. Luckily, with more paddling and with help from a back eddy current, Hewer was sucked into the shore just up from where firefighters were positioned and they were able to pull him from the river.
Hewer was wet, cold, and tired as he walked up to the waiting fire truck. His vital signs were checked and he was given water and a fireman’s coat to warm up. At one point, he was even given a pair of fireman’s pants to put on because he was still shaking from the cold.
Hewer, originally from Edmonton, moved to Victoria a couple of years ago and says that he has tubed the Cowichan River before. However, this was last summer when the water was much lower, and he says that he did not take water elevation into account, or the current and the cold.
“We should have practiced on the lake,” he says. “I even said to my sister when we were getting in, ‘we’re the only ones getting in the river, did you notice that?’”
Hewer says he will be much more careful in the future and he considers himself lucky. He told firefighters he was really impressed with how fast they showed up and was very grateful for their help. “I didn’t think I would need rescuing. Ever,” he told them.
Knott says firefighters, police, and ambulance attendance had to crawl through the bushes at the end of Kingfisher road to rescue the three women stranded on the log over the river. A local resident kept the women company while firefighters made their way down to the river bank.
A swift water team was called in case they were needed, but thankfully were called off as firefighters and police were able to tie themselves off to the shore and assist the women in. Knott says it took quite a while and was quite the process, but luckily it all worked out and the women are safe.
Knott does not ever recommend tubing the river and says that it is becoming an increasing problem for the department.