Near-drowning in Ucluelet prompts warning to stay on trails during storm season

Two Ucluelet locals were rocked by a massive wave and nearly drowned at a coastal lookout they visit often, prompting a reminder from officials to stay on trails as storm season approaches.

Kyla MacGregor was walking her dog on the Wild Pacific Trail when she and a friend ventured a couple of minutes off-trail to a viewpoint on a rocky cliff overlooking the water — a spot she’s been visiting every few days since she moved to the area two years ago.

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MacGregor said she goes there to watch storms, because its distance above the water makes it seem safe. She was introduced to the popular lookout spot by a local when she moved to Ucluelet, and often sees others there when she visits.

There were other people on the rocky cliff when she and her friend arrived last Wednesday, but they left before a massive wave took the two friends by surprise, nearly dragging MacGregor off the cliff and leaving her friend face down in a tide pool and unconscious.

“The wave picked me straight up off the rock and swirled me around on top of the rock, and then when the water drained, I got pulled off the cliff,” she said.

As the water pulled her over the edge, MacGregor managed to cling to a rock to avoid plunging into the ocean below, and a second wave tossed her back onto the rocks. She hit her head and thinks she lost consciousness briefly.

“I remember opening my eyes and seeing my friend’s shoe above on a big rock and a part of his vest. I figured he’d gone in the ocean,” she said.

A third wave pushed her into the tide pool where she found her friend unconscious. “I thought he was dead.”

MacGregor pulled her friend away from the cliff edge, keeping his head above water as she called for help. Her dog, which got away with some cuts and bruises, had returned to the trail and was barking, which led other hikers to her cries for help, MacGregor was later told.

She’s shaken up from the experience, which tore her clothes to shreds, and feeling lucky to come away with a few staples in her head and some bruised ribs.

“My hoodie and my shirt, they don’t exist anymore. They became like confetti,” she said.

MacGregor’s friend was released from hospital Sunday, and she’s looking forward to seeing him awake.

Ucluelet Fire Chief Rick Geddes said the department received a call for a water rescue and possible drowning around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday near the Wild Pacific Trail.

The fire department, search-and-rescue crews, the Coast Guard and B.C. Ambulance paramedics all responded. Crews navigated the trail on all-terrain vehicles to reach the rocky lookout where MacGregor and her friend had been swept up.

MacGregor’s friend was in and out of consciousness, Geddes said. “He’d ingested a lot of water, really close to drowning,” he said.

Geddes said the incident happened during the first big storm of the season and it’s a reminder that the ocean can take anyone by surprise, no matter how familiar they are with the area or how tame the waves appear.

“They need to respect the power of the ocean and stay on the trails. And stay off the rocks, is the big one. Even at the best of times when the waves are low. It’s really easy to fall off those rocks,” he said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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