BRITISH COLUMBIA

Inquest jurors urge standards for swift water rescues

11/25/2012 04:08 EST | Updated 01/25/2013 05:12 EST
NELSON, B.C. - Swift water search-and-rescue teams should use only their own equipment whenever possible in an emergency operation, a coroner's jury has recommended after an inquest into the drowning death of a member from Nelson, B.C.

The jury handed down a list of nine recommendations Saturday aimed at preventing similar deaths to that of 29-year-old Sheilah Sweatman in June 2011.

"We’re going to examine all nine of these (recommendations) and implement as many as we can, as quickly as we can," B.C. Search and Rescue Association President Don Bindon said outside the Nelson courthouse.

He said some will require additional planning and the assistance of other agencies, which his organization can't force to occur.

“But those we can do unilaterally and quickly, we’ll begin with those right away.”

Sweatman drowned in the Goat River, south of Creston, B.C., while trying to recover a submerged car in order to determine if there was anybody inside.

A WorkSafeBC report had already found the Winnipeg native got caught up in a steel cable and was dragged under the water to her death.

The recommendations also range from asking Emergency Management B.C. to expand an existing task force for swift water rescue operations, and designating a specific safety officer during rescues, to developing universal standards for recovery equipment. The recommendation for rescuers to only use their own equipment adds that if any unfamiliar tools must be used, a proper risk assessment should first be completed.

"We’re happy with the recommendations ... and I feel (my family) can now begin to move forward," Sweatman's father Wynn told reporters after the process had concluded.

He said it was a really hard week.

"From an emotional point of view, we’ve taken a step back a year in terms of coping with this loss. The jury was very thorough and always very attentive through the process, so to that degree we were satisfied.”

The father was asked for his response to the jury's decision not to recommend rejecting the use of steel cable.

"I think you do have to rely on the experts," he said. "There was a mention (swift water teams) must use their own equipment and the risk assessment be much greater and standards be higher ... (for) the inter-agency communications be much more specific.

"In one way or another all of those things contributed to Sheilah’s loss," Wynn Sweatman added.

Jury recommendations are not legally binding, but they will give other involved associations, such as Emergency Management B.C. and the RCMP guidelines to help fix the process.

The inquest was originally scheduled for five days, but ran into a sixth day to conclude.

Wynn Sweatman was the final witness, late Friday, and he gave an emotional plea to the jury.

Presiding coroner Matthew Brown gave his charge to the five men, two-women jury on Saturday.

"I think the jury heard a lot of evidence during the course of this week and provided some recommendations to help the (search and rescue) community move forward," Brown said following the inquest.

"My hope was that at the end of this, the family would have some additional answers.

"From those involved it was certainly a very emotional time for everyone. Not only the family but for (search and rescue) members involved, who were friends and colleagues of Sheilah.”

(The Nelson Daily)