An afternoon of tubing went tragically wrong on Sunday (July 15) for three friends from Qualicum Beach after the inflatable rafts they had strung together went over Stamp Falls, northwest of Port Alberni. The young people, all in their early 20s, were apparently unfamiliar with the river.
Cory Donald Heinz, 22, died in the accident while two unidentified females had to be rescued from the steep cliffs in a narrow canyon below the falls. The trio had launched their makeshift raft from the Stamp River Provincial Park campground, above the treacherous falls, Port Alberni RCMP Cpl. Jen Allan said.
All three went over the falls; witnesses saw Heinz floating face down past the area where the girls were rescued, and was brought to shore by civilians in the area at Slide Pool, Alberni Valley Rescue Squad spokesperson Mark Palmer said. None of the three were apparently wearing life jackets.
Palmer said the rescue and recovery were among the most complicated he has ever seen in the 12 years he has been a squad member. Volunteer swift water rescue technicians were dispatched to Stamp Falls, where they had to rappel down the steep canyon walls to reach the two women, one in the water clinging to a rock and the other trapped on a small ledge a few metres above the water.
Two inflatable kayaks were also lowered by rope from a cement abutment, 25 metres (80 feet) above a tunnel that is part of the Stamp Falls fish ladder. Two swift water technicians maneuvred the first kayak towards the woman in the water, equipped her with a life jacket and helmet, and pulled her into the kayak to take her downriver to emergency personnel.
The second team of technicians had to cross the river, paddle under a log jammed across the canyon, and maneuvre their kayak into position near the female on the ledge. After equipping the second female with safety equipment, they were able to lower her into the kayak then pull the kayak by rope back to the second technician, and paddle downriver to safety.
“It was a very technical rescue and I’m very thankful we have the skilled swift water technicians that we do,” Palmer said.
Both women were taken by ambulance to West Coast General Hospital, where they were treated for minor injuries and released.
A combined team of AVRS and Beaver Creek Fire Department volunteers recovered Heinz at a place locals call Eagle Rock, further down the river. A 15-person stretcher team and coroner Willem Van Herk traversed challenging trail for 45 minutes before coming out of the brush onto Beaver Creek Road, where other emergency personnel were waiting. A B.C. Ambulance Service helicopter had also been dispatched and landed nearby in case it was needed.
Palmer said rescue calls to the Stamp River have increased over the past few years. On June 26, Port Alberni RCMP issued a warning to people that the Stamp River is treacherous at this time of year and to use caution. This followed an incident on June 25 where four people were tubing the Stamp below the falls and one member was pinned underwater after falling out of an inflatable raft.
Last October, one woman and two men who were tubing down the Stamp in wetsuits ran into difficulty and had to be rescued, just south of the rifle range.
Palmer pleaded with people wanting to tube on the Stamp River to be responsible and wear protective gear. “Please, if you’re going to take part in recreational activities such as tubing, go with someone who knows the river and go equipped with a personal flotation device (life jacket).”