Accident Database

Report ID# 2315

  • Caught in Low Head Dam Hydraulic
  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Inexperience

Accident Description

There was a double drowing in the Calgary weir on Sunday. Here are links to the two local newspaper reports. The 'Sun' article also has an impressive photo of the fire dept. rescue deck in action, seeking to recover bodies. As it's now been two days later with no sign of survivors, fatalities are certain. More info. will emerge but the core info. in the initial news reports seems accurate. 9 floaters on a cluster of small, cheap rafts floated down in fairly high water.

The group was new to Calgary and not particularly familiar with the river but at least some had been down the river earlier this year and had taken out when they encountered the cable boom and buoys across the river above the weir and were reportedly again anticipating this as a 'landmark'. Due to high water the boom had broken a few days earlier. There had been a prominent public news campaign to alert the public but unfortunately, the group apparently didn't know this and 3 rafts with 5 people ended up going over weir - 3 survived and 2 drowned. Neither was reportedly wearing a life jacket but bodies have not yet been recovered (despite extensive search with boats, along banks and by helicopter).

As you probably know, Calgary has a City by-law requiring that pfd's be worn, in addition to the national requirement that pfd's be carried. Of the group, 4 were able to get to shore before the weir. Some paddlers commented that it is surprising that 3 survived the hole that looked pretty ferocious and very retentive at that level. As you know, there are many other signs above the weir, including signs on a railroad bridge that must be floated under, a few hundred m upstream. Some group members were recently from Quebec and probably francophone (french-speaking) and it is possible that this might have influenced responsiveness to the English language warnings signs (this is a speculative assessment but a possible factor). Alcohol may also have been a contributing factor.

This incident should ensure prompt completion of the Harvie passage and we all hope that these 13th and 14th fatalities will be the final drownings at the Calgary weir (or the 14th and 15th since there was another drowning victim recovered downstream a few years ago but involvement of the weir was uncertain).

Related to the Calgary weir project (a play park), it is perhaps likely that with the reconnection of the river corridor and with the likely appeal of the paddling park, there will be considerable increase in boating along the Bow River. With this increased use it is also likely that there will be an increase in the number of fatalities. There is typically a drowning or two annually in Calgary, sometimes involving bridge pillars, as well as the standard hazards of no pfd, alcohol, cold water, etc.. We'll try to work to reduce this and I'm hopeful that the focus of activity at the Harvie passage might increase safety awareness and response (such as relative to wearing pfd's).Two men presumed drowned in rafting incident at weir

Survivors thought safety boom would save them, but Tuesday's storm washed it away
Sarah Chapman, Calgary HeraldPublished: Monday, June 11, 2007

Two men are presumed dead after a group of rafters toppled over the Bow River weir Sunday. Three others -- two women and a man -- managed to swim to safety. The survivors said they thought a safety boom would stop them before they went over the weir, but high river levels due to a storm last week broke the boom, and continuing high water levels made it impossible to replace it. "I could have died," said Claudie Tremblay, wrapped in a pink blanket, still shaken from the ordeal. Surviving rafters wait for news about their friends after three rafts went over the 'drowning machine' late Sunday afternoon. 

The two men who were washed away by the water are both 28 years old and had just moved to Calgary days ago from Quebec. They were not wearing lifejackets, and fire department Capt. Dave Clark said it is unlikely the two survived.  "It's not very hopeful at this point," he said.

Two boats capsized and the third remained upright going over the weir around 6 p.m.  Fire department divers, aquatic rescue crews in boats and police in the HAWC helicopter searched for the two men into the evening. The three who made it to shore after falling over the weir huddled in blankets as they watched the rescue effort and hoped for the safe return of their friends.

Survivor Carl Langlais was part of the group. He remained in his boat as it toppled over the weir and onto a large log trapped at the base. "The boat (spun) onto the tree, and I received three hits on the head by the tree," he said. Langlais, who moved to Calgary from Quebec a month ago for work, said his two missing friends moved here two days ago. "It's 15 years I've known those guys," he said.

Langlais said he has floated down the river twice before, and the group assumed the safety boom was still in place.  They started their trip down the river from 37th Street N.W. were floating on their inflatable rafts for two hours before they reached the weir. A mother of four was taking her boys and their friend to the fish hatchery for a walk when they witnessed the commotion. "One of the guys was still on the boat. He was desperate, asking for help," Carolina Menjivar recalled. "He couldn't control himself. He was yelling at us, Help, Help.' " She watched as three of the rafters made it to shore and the other two were pulled under. "We could see a body floating, going down the river, then the water takes it," she said. "The water was flipping him over and over again, back and forth. Half of his body came out, then went back in and he was gone." She asked some nearby cyclists to call 911. "We couldn't do anything for them."

The three survivors were fortunate they made it out alive, said Budai.

Clark said another four rafters managed to get out of the water before reaching the weir and walked around.

The boom broke Tuesday, and public warnings were issued, said fire department spokesman Jeff Budai."It's your last physical barrier before going over the weir," he said.  "It's your last chance. It's physically impossible to see (the edge) when you're approaching the weir." Clark added there are quite a few signs between the weir and the Calgary Zoo bridge warning about the danger that lies ahead. Fire department divers may continue the search on Monday.

In January, a $12.5-million project was announced to create series of rapids downstream of the irrigation weir, using smooth rocks and concrete, to raise the level of the river and eliminate the hazard to boaters and wildlife. The estate of philanthropist Don Harvie donated an initial $2 million through the Calgary Foundation, the city contributed another $1 million and the province offered $3.4 million for the project.

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