Coquitlam SAR plucks 17 campers from backcountry after weather delays floatplane
VANCOUVER -- A camping trip that began with a flight in a chartered float plane ended with a ride home in an RCMP cruiser after inclement weather left a group of 17 stranded and in need of help from Coquitlam Search and Rescue.
They set out from Coal Harbour in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday with a plan to spend 48 hours at Widgeon Lake just north of Coquitlam Mountain.
“It’s a one way in, one way out lake. It’s 780 metres elevation and it’s ringed by steep peaks so you can only fly in from one end, the east end,” said Coquitlam SAR search manager Al Hurley.
On Thursday, when the 1 p.m. pickup time rolled around, conditions were just too dangerous for the float plane to land.
“It was just full fog. That quickly passes. Then it comes back and the rain comes back,” said Matthew Shestalo, one of the campers. “It was just like, you know, what are we going to do here?”
By Friday morning, conditions did not appear to be improving and the group was running low on food and water, and they were very wet.
“They had 40 millimetres last night on Westwood Plateau right around the corner from where they’re staying,” Hurley said.
One of the campers had a satellite phone and used it to call for help.
A crew of volunteers from Coquitlam SAR rode into the area in a helicopter and ferried seven people out in two trips.
A break in the weather Friday afternoon allowed the float plane to land on the lake and collect the other 10 for the short flight back to Vancouver.
Three people were able to hitch a ride to YVR on the Talon Helicopters chopper making its way back to base.
The remaining four had to travel back to the city in a pair of Coquitlam RCMP cruisers.
The group’s little camping trip turned into a much bigger adventure than they initially planned, but thanks to Coquitlam SAR they all made it home none the worse for wear.
“These guys are amazing. Absolute heroes,” said Shestalo. “Very easy to work with and they were just so friendly. They really did save the day.”