Friends watched helplessly as kayaker was pulled under in fast-moving waters
FIVE ISLANDS - Three kayakers could do nothing but watch as a fourth member of their group was swept away to his death in the "treacherous," fast-moving waters of the Bass River of Five Islands.
"The missing individual got caught in an eddy and a flow and got pulled under," said RCMP Sgt. Al Affleck, after the body of the kayaker had been recovered yesterday. "They couldn't grab the kayak, they lost sight of it and lost sight of him."
He said the 31-year-old man was a former Hants County resident who had been living in Ontario. Family members have asked that his identity not be released.
Two of the other three individuals are believed to be from Halifax while one is said to be from Truro.
After the kayaker disappeared, one of his friends continued down river in his craft to seek help while the other two searched along the riverbanks before eventually making their way back upstream to where they had left their vehicle.
Affleck said police received word of the missing kayaker about 10 p.m. Wednesday but weather conditions did not permit a search effort to get underway until early Thursday morning.
"Because of the extreme weather conditions, the high wind and the rain, we did not proceed with the ground search and rescue on the ground at that time," he said. "We decided to wait until the sun came up and started at 7 o'clock this morning."
Between 30 and 40 volunteers from ground search and rescue teams in Colchester and Springhill, along with area ATV club members, participated in the search.
After leaving their vehicle about 8 km on an isolated road off Highway 2, the kayakers portaged for about three hours to the head of the Bass River of Five Islands and set off from what is known locally as the swinging bridge.
Affleck said they had travelled about four km down river, "getting out at the most dangerous spots" to portage. When they came to the treacherous set of waterfall/rapids, where the accident occurred, three kayakers made it out safely while the fourth did not.
"He was the last to get out and his kayak got caught in an eddy and got spun under and they lost him," he said. "They saw him go under."
Because of the isolation and the "very rough terrain" in the area, searchers had to be transported by ATVs and flown in by a Department of Natural Resources helicopter. Around 10 a.m. the kayaker was spotted from the air by police in an RCMP helicopter on a small patch of land near the mouth of the river, which Affleck referred to loosely as an island.
Because the "island" was too small to land on, however, an officer was dropped off at the site to check on the kayaker's condition. His kayak was located near the body.
A larger Cormorant helicopter was called in from CFB Greenwood and a basket was lowered to extract the body, which was then taken to Halifax for an autopsy by a provincial medical examiner.
"There are several possibilities with the extreme force of the river," Affleck said of the cause of death. "It could've been blunt trauma, it could've been drowning, or it could've been asphyxiation. We don't know at this time."
All four were experienced kayakers and police said the victim, who was described as being physically strong, was wearing a survival suit complete with waterproof gaskets and a dry suit underneath. He also was wearing a helmet, elbow pads and a life jacket.