We know there have been several people asking about an update here in British Columbia. It’s been difficult since our long drive, getting up early and staying up late to review the sonar images we collect during the day to properly write an update. We have lots of photos and video to share once there sufficient time to properly edit and upload. You’ll get a kick out of the “police escort’ we had coming off the water on day 3 when we were stranded in the middle of Slocan Lake due to boat issue.
Upon our arrival to New Denver Friday night we met with Kathy Nicholls; the grandmother of Sky Donnet and Seargent Darrell Little of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We were briefed and made a plan for the following morning to go out and run the side scan sonar. The Vernon Search and Rescue team had been running sonar and using an ROV the previous several days. We were glad they decided to stay and work with us to cover as much ground as possible. They mentioned the terrain was difficult and we were about to find out just how brutal it was to run the sonar towfish.
Saturday morning we set up our equipment on the Nakusp rescue boat. The local firemen put there handy craftsman skills to work rigging things up so we could effectively run a large winch off the back of the boat. Dave Sutton of Shipwreck Explorers was kind enough to lend his winch and cable which is much longer than ours. We knew Slocan Lake had some depths over 600’ and what we have, wouldn’t get our towfish deep enough for the best possible images.
Once we got started things went ok and we scanned some potential targets of interest. The Vernon SAR would then use their ROV to check out what we picked up on the sonar. No doubt the terrain is extremely difficult to scan. Slocan Lake is in the mountains and they are steep. So imagine these same mountains continuing into the water down to depths of 900’. It’s similar to an iceberg. 10% is at the surface and you need to be extremely leery of what is below the surface that you can’t see. When searching for bodies the towfish that is dragged behind the boat, needs to be as close to the ground as possible. Our hurdles were the depths and incredibly steep peaks and valleys that come up so fast our towfish would hit the rocks. Not a good thing to say the least.
The second day of searching started out with us getting geared up on a different boat. Big John lined up a pontoon boat from a local guy named Darrell. His boat was absolutely perfect for what we needed. We tip our hat to Darrell for building this beauty and allowing us to use it for a couple days. Day 2 was unsuccessful and the weather moved in quickly, taking us off the water.
Later we met with Kathy and her sons Richard and Steven to eat dinner and share our images and update them on our progress. Sky is Richard’s son.
Going into Day 3 we were optimistic feeling we had a solid plan to manage the fast changing terrain with our sonar passes. We had nobody else on the water and the lake was calm. RCMP Art, was driving the boat for us on his time off. Pulling out of the marina after getting our equipment set up, we noticed a change in the boat motor. It was running full throttle but acted like it was starving for fuel. It ran well enough for us to run the sonar so we kept at it. Our plan of running the sonar along the underwater cliffs was working really well. Finally we had the images we needed to see top to bottom without missing much. Everything was going to plan until the boat motor stopped about 3pm. We ended up with a police escort having been towed in by the RCMP zodiac. Once again, a setback we could do without.
We figured out what was wrong with the boat motor upon arriving into the marina. An electric fuel pump wire came unplugged. Unfortunately we had just unloaded all our equipment before realizing what a simple fix it was. We found a couple targets to look for with the ROV just before the boat motor died so the plan for Day 4 was to put the sonar away and focus on using the ROV to see what was below the surface and check out our targets.
We had been staying about 34 km away in Nakusp so we moved our hotel to New Denver. The owner of Dome Quixote, Joan, put us up in her unique and beautiful dome hotel. We had dinner with Kathy and her family that evening.
Day 4 put us out on Lake Slocan with RCMP Chris to check out the targets we picked up previously with the sonar. Once we had our anchors set we were effectively covering ground. Things were going smooth until we found the boat we were on needed to come back to the marina. It was a tough pill to swallow given the conditions were perfect on the water and we were making excellent progress clearing the most likely area for the victims.
We couldn’t walk away after driving so far and not providing the family and community the closure they would like. Especially after the setbacks we had been dealt. So Kathy made some phone calls and lined up another boat. Lex, the owner of Jones Boys Boats hooked us up with a boat to use for the next couple days and we can’t thank him enough. Our plan is to finish working the area of the last seen point where a hiker had seen 2 people clinging to the canoe.
It’s been an eventful past several days and I wish I had the time and energy to share more details. We’re giving it our all and want so badly to come through with results for everyone involved.
Every member of the RCMP has been tremendous to work with and they should be proud of the effort they put in. Thank you to everyone who has wished us well and thanked us for making our way to New Denver. We hope we have some positive news to report on soon.