by Heather Colpitts & Roxanne Hooper
The search has largely been called off for a man who fell into the Fraser River on Monday.
On Monday night, at about 9 p.m., a 72-year-old Langley man fell off a barge and into the river, said Langley RCMP Cpl. Holly Largy. The incident apparently happend about 1.8-kilometres up river from the float plane facility.
The man and another were both working on the barge, and in contact via cellphones. The victim’s friend lost contact and saw him in the water.
After the incident was called in, Langley RCMP immediately joined family and friends who were already searching the waterway off River Road and 256th Street. Those efforts were joined a short time later by members from Ridge Meadows and Central Fraser Valley Search and Rescue teams, as well as the New Westminster Police marine unit.
An RCMP dive team was called in, but determined the current was too fast for them to deploy.
The teams combed through the docks and wharfs in the area, but were not successful in locating the senior, Largy said, noting that client support and victim services also attended to provide support to his “family during this very difficult time.”
Due to darkness, the search was ultimately called off about 12:30 a.m., with some members of the CFVSAR back out on the water again Tuesday morning, explained search manager Jerry Haak.
“It’s really hard to search in the dark,” Haak said, noting he had six members deployed, including himself stationed in the command centre and four members out in their jet boat scanning the waterway with lights. They joined two boats and 13 rescue members from Ridge Meadows.
Between them, searchers covered the south shoreline of the river for several kilometres, including the entire Bedford Channel, said Ridge search manager Rick Laing.
Laing described the water as “incredibly murky,” which further hampered the search. Due to the annual runoff still coming downstream, he said the water was essentially black. Immersing his hand in the water, he couldn’t even see his hand.
The missing man was apparently one of two working on a barge. At the time, the two men were communicating back and forth with cellphones.
“When they were talking to one and other, the one guy asked a question and [the other] never responded, so the guy walked around the barge or the boat or whatever it was, to see, and he saw the other person in the water, sort of struggling to get his head up,” Haak recounted.
Mounties described the missing man as a “non-swimmer.”
“He saw him go down and never again come back up,” Haak added, noting it was hoped, in the subsequent hours of searching last night, that they might find the missing man caught up in “strainers or a log jam, or whatever is along that river… but no luck.”
Haak said rising or lowering tides and the speed of the current in the river could have also played a significant factor in the failed search.
On Tuesday, searchers returned and combed the river between a barge west to McMillan Island for a missing man, but the further quest produced no leads, according to Langley RCMP. The man is now believed to be a drowning victim.