Two videos showing Nelson Search and Rescue volunteer Sheilah Sweatman’s final moments before she drowned in the Goat River south of Creston last year were played for a coroner’s jury Tuesday.
The footage, taken for the reality TV show Callout: Search and Rescue, was shown in its entirety, uninterrupted. The two 52-minute videos depict the same events, but from different angles.
The first video opened with a short statement by search team leader Chris Armstrong describing the events that brought them to the river on June 29, 2011 — a report of a vehicle in the water, suspected to belong to a missing woman.
Sweatman is seen with colleagues at a roadside planning meeting and briefly identifies herself. Later the video shows a wide shot of the river, across which a rope is tied to a double pontoon raft manned by Sweatman and another member of the swiftwater rescue team.
They were attaching a steel cable to the overturned vehicle so it could be towed from the water. Everything appears to be going well at first, but then the raft begins to move downstream, turn sideways, and submerge, and the rope system fails.
The inquest has heard Sweatman’s leg became tangled in the cable, which was somehow attached to the vehicle. She was pulled overboard.
Armstrong is heard shouting: “Grab her, grab her, grab her! … Go, go, go!”
The video shows a back-up boat attempting unsuccessfully to reach Sweatman and lines being thrown into the water. The woman holding the camera is heard saying “Don’t you give up. They’re coming — Chris is coming. C’mon Chris, get ‘er.”
Armstrong is seen entering the water. As he is turned back by the current, the woman says “I just can’t film anymore. I can’t do it,” and hands the camera to someone else.
The second video, taken from the opposite bank, shows closer views of the raft, but doesn’t capture the moment when the rope broke.
Sweatman’s family was not in the room while the videos played, except for her brother Mark, who was sharply critical of the events depicted.
“It’s really tragic to see,” he told media afterward. “What I saw was people standing around and very little effort made for almost 12 minutes.”
Mark, who viewed the footage once before, said he didn’t feel enough was done to save his sister: “No one had fins or snorkel or mask, or anything of use … It was just pathetic.”
He suggested someone floating downstream might have provided Sheilah with a breath or kept her head above water until wire cutters could arrive.
Global News applied Tuesday to broadcast excerpts from the footage. Reporter John Daly, appearing in person, said the TV station would only use brief portions to demonstrate Sheilah’s colleagues’ efforts.
However, lawyer Cameron Ward said the family has instructed him to oppose the application when arguments are heard this morning.
The inquest, being held at the Nelson courthouse before presiding coroner Matt Brown, is looking into the circumstances of Sweatman’s death so that a seven-person jury can suggest recommendations to prevent similar tragedies.
Although scheduled to wrap up Friday, the hearing is behind schedule, with evidence from only five of 19 witnesses so far. A subpoena is also expected to be issued to a vacationing Creston RCMP officer to appear by phone. Several search and rescue witnesses, including Armstrong, are scheduled to testify today.