She was supposed to help recover a missing woman’s vehicle. Instead she lost her own life.
Sheilah Sweatman, 29, of Ymir was a member of Nelson Search and Rescue’s swiftwater team, called out on June 29 to a bridge south of Creston, where a car had been spotted submerged in the Goat River.
While trying to attach a tow chain to the vehicle, she went overboard and didn’t resurface. Her colleagues found her body the following day. Compounding the tragedy, the body of Lana Chipesia, 23, the car’s owner, was discovered further downstream following an aerial search.
Sweatman was praised as one of the group’s most dedicated members — someone who always responded, no matter the task. Search and rescue became central to her life, and she was an integral part of the team.
Nelson Search and Rescue colleagues, along with representatives of other branches, attended a family service in her hometown of Winnipeg, while a public memorial at Lakeside Park a few weeks later drew hundreds of emergency responders from around BC.
Her brother Michael and parents Teddi and Wynn, who lovingly called her Sheesh, delivered emotional eulogies.
“Sheilah was always a work in progress, emerging and evolving from one beautiful stage and moving on to the next,” her mother said.
Framed by two pieces of Sweatman’s artwork, her parents painted a portrait of their daughter, sharing her passion, sense of adventure and creativity.
“Sheilah was the strongest woman I’ve ever known,” her search colleague Callie Chatten added. “She gave the best bear hugs, had a mischievous smile, and big brown eyes that could convey anything.”
Central Okanagan Search and Rescue named its new jet boat after Sweatman, while Nelson Search and Rescue will build a monument at its new North Shore headquarters with stones contributed from each of the province’s search and rescue groups.
A coroner’s inquest into Sweatman’s death will be held in Nelson next June.
A WorkSafeBC investigation also remains outstanding.