News

Donated equipment helps recovery organization

Deron Long, Seamor Marine training supervisor and field technician, left, helps Jim Ward, Legacy Water Search and Recovery Society vice-president, retrieve an ROV during a training session in Departure Bay April 14. Seamor Marine has outfitted the non-profit society with the ROV, which will be used with other equipment to find missing drowning victims. - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Deron Long, Seamor Marine training supervisor and field technician, left, helps Jim Ward, Legacy Water Search and Recovery Society vice-president, retrieve an ROV during a training session in Departure Bay April 14. Seamor Marine has outfitted the non-profit society with the ROV, which will be used with other equipment to find missing drowning victims.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Seamor Marine is making sure Legacy Water Search and Recovery Society has some of the right tools it needs to find missing drowning victims.

Brendan Wilson and Austin Kingsborough, of Langley, took a canoe trip on Nicola Lake April 20, 2013, and never returned. When the teens’ canoe was found capsized, RCMP divers and sonar scoured the lake for five days before they gave up the search and told the families nothing more could be done.

That same day the victims’ family members called Ralston and Associates’ Gene Ralston, a retired environmental consultant in Idaho, and his wife Sandy, who donate their time and equipment to find missing drowning victims.

“We were very fortunate to actually receive their number, their phone call. It was actually through a couple of connections,” said Jim Ward, Wilson’s uncle.

Ralston found and recovered the bodies of both boys from the lake May 6 using his side scan sonar and a submersible remotely operated vehicle.

Ward and Scott Lebus, a family friend, realizing nothing like Ralston’s service is available in Canada, formed the Legacy Water Search and Recovery Society.

“It’s mostly because of the people who came and helped us and our families,” Wilson said. “They are overwhelmed with calls and there’s nothing like this in Canada.”

The society is in the process of raising $350,000 to purchase an ROV, side scan sonar and a boat to carry out searches for Canadian families.

So far, about $50,000 has been raised through donations from service clubs, sport teams and corporations.

Last week, the men were at the Pacific Biological Station dock conducting sea trials of a Seamor Marine ROV sold to the society at a heavily discounted price with interest-free financing.

“They actually contacted us,” Wilson said. “We had already visited [Don Simard, Seamor Marine senior sales representative] once and he said, ‘We’ve got to get this in your hands and get you trained because your season’s coming up,’ as sick as that sounds.”

Society members hope that donations will continue to come in to keep up payments for the ROV and help them purchase the rest of the equipment needed.

Seamor Marine has received numerous calls over the years from families of missing drowning victims asking for help.

“Last year was a particularly bad year because there were a lot of kids that drowned,” Simard said.

The company would refer victims’ families and search organizations to a dive company in Courtenay and had loaned its ROVs for searches, but recognized a long-standing need for a Canadian organization dedicated to this kind of work.

Seamor has also outfitted Bruce’s Legacy, a drown victim search organization based in Wisconsin, which uses an ROV and side scan sonar equipment in its operations. That organization discovered Seamor by contacting Lebus.

“They’re in a bad area where they have some of the worst winters,” Simard said. “They cut open ice to go looking for bodies, but they have a similar story.”

Bruce’s Legacy is named for Bruce Cormican, a Black River Hills, Wis. firefighter who died while trying to recover a drowning victim in 1995.

Simard said in most areas where normal dive searches fail to recover drowning victims there is no alternative to bring peace of mind to surviving loved ones.

“They need answers sometimes,” Simard said. “The equipment is there. We have the technology. It’s just that there’s nobody out there doing it.”

Ward said he and Lebus ultimately want to see similar operations set up in every province across Canada.

To donate or learn more about the society, please visit www.legacywatersearch.com.

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