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Vancouver man dies while tubing on Cowichan River

Lake Cowichan RCMP were called Monday evening to the Marie Canyon area, where they learned the man had been floating down the river with friends and was unable to to get out before the rapids at the canyon, as he had planned.
Members of Cowichan Search and Rescue take part in a white-water rescue training exercise along one of the seven rapids on the Cowichan River. The Lake Cowichan fire chief, whose department has responded to four calls on the river this year, recommends tubers not venture below Little Beach. VIA COWICHAN SEARCH AND RESCUE

A 56-year-old Vancouver man has drowned while tubing on the Cowichan River Monday evening.

Lake Cowichan RCMP were called to the Marie Canyon area around 6:30 p.m., where they learned the man had been floating down the river with friends and was unable to get out before the rapids at Marie Canyon, as he had planned.

His friends lost sight of him and found him again 500 metres downriver in medical distress. Despite first aid by B.C. Ambulance paramedics and the Lake Cowichan Fire Department, the man died at the scene.

Police have not released the man’s name.

In a statement, B.C. RCMP note that the popular tubing and swimming spot is dangerous, even for good swimmers.

“Though important, swimming skills alone aren’t always enough to save a life,” said Sgt. Chris Manseau. “Many drowning incidents involve other factors that swimming skills alone cannot prepare an individual for.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by the Lake Cowichan Fire Department, which has responded to four river calls this year. In one of those incidents, crews had to rescue seven people from the water after the group underestimated the time it would take to reach Skutz Falls.

Lake Cowichan Fire Chief Doug Knott said he doesn’t ­recommend anybody tubing below Little Beach off Greendale Road.

After Little Beach, the river becomes much more treacherous, Knott said. “It starts to run harder and faster, with a lot of debris in the river like trees and branches hanging, which are dangerous.”

Little Beach is about 2.2 kilometres from the mouth of Lake Cowichan by road. By contrast, Marie Canyon is about 17 kilometres away.

Knott said the area around Marie Canyon is extremely rugged terrain, noting that Monday’s recovery operation required a one-kilometre walk through rocky terrain and took 31/2 hours in total.

“We have very limited access to the river — we can’t get to them in an emergency and there’s no cell service,” he said. “Even our radios don’t work properly. Even a satellite phone wouldn’t work properly in Marie Canyon.

“It’s a whole different world in there,” he said. “The only proper egress from the river is Little Beach on Greendale Road.”