It was an emotional six days at the Nelson courthouse last week as details of the Sheilah Sweatman tragedy on the Goat River in 2011 were brought to light.
The Nelson Search and Rescue volunteer lost her life doing what she loved: helping people. The coroner’s inquest was charged with trying to ensure it never happens again.
Our hearts continue to go out to the Sweatman family who arrived for the inquest from Manitoba. Every day they have to live with the grief of losing a daughter and sister. Their courage to face the details of the fatal rescue operation in hopes of making greater change is to be admired.
“There’s nothing happy about this for us, but I think Sheilah’s legacy will be a big improvement in standards,” said father Wynn Sweatman after the recommendations were handed down over the weekend.
Our sympathies are also extended to the Nelson Search and Rescue volunteers who had to take the stand and relive the horrible events of that June operation near Creston.
Some of the most heart-wrenching testimony came from local search and rescue veteran Chris Armstrong who had to deal with what he called a “catastrophic series of events beyond my imagination.”
What had to make it more difficult for Armstrong and those on the scene that day was having their every move scrutinized. In order to get answers, the questions had to be asked. It couldn’t have been easy for any member of that day’s operation.
It emerged that “planning failures” contributed to Sweatman’s death. In any deep analysis of rescue operations, it would impossible not to find flaws. In no way should the inquest cast a negative light on the great work being done by search and rescue volunteers in our community. These people take calculated risks to help people in trouble. Most of the time, it has a happy ending, but the nature of their work is inherently dangerous.
Like all search and rescue volunteers, Sheilah Sweatman unselfishly put her skills to work to make a difference. The inquest recommendations will hopefully ensure she continues to do so.