UPDATED: Search and rescue was ‘central to her life’
Local search and rescue members are praising the efforts of a colleague who drowned last week in the Goat River near Creston while on a recovery mission.
Sheilah Sweatman, 29, of Ymir, is believed to be the first volunteer in BC search and rescue history killed in the line of duty.
“Sheilah has been a valued member of Nelson Search and Rescue for the past 2½ years,” the organization said in a statement. She held many certifications and was a member of various rescue teams.
“Sheilah was one of the most dedicated members,” the statement continued. “When available, she would always respond no matter what the operational task. Since joining [the group] search and rescue became central to her life. Sheilah was an integral part of our search and rescue team and will be greatly missed.”
The organization declined further comment because the incident remains under investigation by RCMP, WorkSafeBC, and the BC Coroners Service.
Last Wednesday afternoon, Sweatman was part of a swift water rescue team called to the bridge on Highway 21 south of Creston where a vehicle was reported submerged in the river.
Police say in an attempt to attach a tow chain to the vehicle, Sweatman went overboard and did not surface.
Her colleagues recovered her body Thursday, as well as the vehicle, a 1997 Pontiac Sunfire, which belonged to Lana Chipesia, 23, of Creston, who was recently reported missing.
Chipesia’s body was found Monday further downstream following an aerial search.
She was last seen at her home on the Lower Kootenay Band Reserve on June 18. That day she was involved in a minor police complaint, but left before police arrived.
Sweatman, meanwhile, was originally from Manitoba, where her family still lives. She graduated from the University of Manitoba before moving here, where she worked part-time at Nelson Animal Hospital.
She was involved in several episodes of the Call Out: Search and Rescue TV series and maintained a blog on the show’s website, although it had not been updated since December.
The latest entry is a news release from Premier Christy Clark and Solicitor General Shirley Bond offering condolences on Sweatman’s death.
“I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of this brave woman who lost her life during this search and rescue call-out,” Clark said in the statement.
“As a province, we are extremely fortunate to have so many dedicated search and rescue volunteers who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”
“It is with deep sorrow that I learned of the tragic loss of this young woman,” Bond added. “British Columbians are grateful for the courage and bravery of the men and women who help protect us through search and rescue groups across the province.”
Bond called it a “tragic example” of the risk search and rescue personnel face.
Don Bindon, president of the BC Search and Rescue Association said his organization, which represents 2,500 volunteers in 80 communities, has suffered “an immense tragedy,” and that his members are “profoundly saddened by the loss of one of their own.
“Each day we accept that search and rescue work is not without risk but when it happens we realize we can never be prepared,” Bindon said Thursday.
“Our search and rescue family will recover — the work is too important for us not to be there, but today is our worst day.”
Condolences can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.