Okanagan rescue boat to be named after Sweatman

Okanagan Search and Rescue will name its new jet boat after volunteer Sheilah Sweatman, who will be remembered at a public service Saturday in Nelson. - Courtesy Fire One Entertainment
Okanagan Search and Rescue will name its new jet boat after volunteer Sheilah Sweatman, who will be remembered at a public service Saturday in Nelson.
— image credit: Courtesy Fire One Entertainment

A Kelowna group plans to name its new jet boat after Sheilah Sweatman, the Nelson Search and Rescue volunteer who died in the line of duty last month.

“Sheilah’s story touched us deeply and underlined the commitment that we make as search and rescue volunteers,” said Marilyn Wilson of Central Okanagan Search and Rescue.

“We want to honour Sheilah in this way, as we feel quite certain we will never forget her sacrifice made helping others every time we use our boat.”

Wilson says the day Sweatman drowned in the Goat River while on a recovery mission, they were receiving $25,000 they’d won in a national contest sponsored by The Keg steakhouse. The money was earmarked for a new rescue boat.

That night they learned about Sweatman’s death, “which hit us pretty strong. One of the members in the morning emailed everybody and said there’s some eerie connection that we were getting the money at the time of Sheilah’s accident. Wouldn’t it be great if we named it after her? Everybody was behind it 100 per cent.”

Wilson got in touch with organizers of Saturday’s memorial, who in turn put her in touch with Sweatman’s family in Manitoba, “who it turns out are big boaters and absolutely thrilled about this.”

The boat has not yet been acquired, but is expected to be an all-aluminum jet boat to replace an inflatable vessel, which Wilson says isn’t good in shallow water, strong water, or rivers. They hope to have it in service in the spring.

It will be called Sweatman, and beneath its name will be “In honour and memory of Sheilah Sweatman.”

Wilson says as with search groups in the Kootenays, they are often called upon to help neighbouring organizations.

“We didn’t know Sheilah personally but it’s pretty keenly felt in this group that we lost her because of all the mutual assist work we do,” she says.

Central Okanagan Search and Rescue will be sending a delegation to Saturday’s memorial in Nelson, including their president, who will announce the naming of the rescue boat as part of the service.

Sweatman will also be remembered with a rock cairn at the North Shore hall, to be built with stones contributed from each of the province’s search and rescue groups.

• Saturday’s ceremony will include a flotilla of three rescue boats from Nelson, Castlegar, and Beasley, according to Beasley fire chief and Nelson Search and Rescue member Al Craft.

When the honour guard procession starts at the airport at 11, the boats will move with them parallel on the water, and then as the procession reaches the soccer pitch, they will standby near the bridge.

“When the fly-past comes, they’re going to go along with them,” Craft says. “Put the lights and sirens on and come swooping along back toward the lagoon where the bandstand is.”

Afterward, they will hover offshore during the ceremony, which begins at 11:30.

According to Don MacKinnon of the Nelson Pilots Association, the fly-past is scheduled for three minutes after noon and is expected to consist of seven aircraft — a Canadian military Buffalo turboprop, three helicopters, and three planes flown by local members of the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association.

The public is welcome to attend, but encouraged to come on foot. Lakeside Park will be closed to vehicles from 11 a.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday.

The corner of Lakeside Drive and Hall Street near the airport and the access to the Chahko Mika Mall at Poplar and Front Streets will also be closed.

The mall itself will remain open.

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