This month I watched an event transpire through press releases on my BlackBerry that I was not present at, yet I could visualize clearly. That's because I had seen it before.
July 12, the first e-mail from RCMP media relations came in. It read, "A pickup truck travelling on the grid road attempted to traverse an area of the road covered by water at a low level river crossing. The vehicle became caught in the current and swept off the road. One occupant was able to exit the vehicle, swim to shore and summon help. Two othershave not yet been located and it cannot be confirmed they were able to exit the vehicle before it became submerged. The YorktonRCMP Police Dog Service, RCMP Underwater Recovery Team and an RCMP traffic accident reconstructionistfrom Regina have been called into assist in the investigation."
The incident occurred just a few miles northwest of Springside. Coincidentally, I was at my parent's acreage just 15 miles away the day before.
Over the coming hours and days, one, then the other missing people were located. The first was found inside the vehicle, a 73-year-old man who perished. July 17, the body of the missing 84-year-old man was found and recovered.
I don't know why they decided to cross a flooded river crossing, with the river obviously in flood stage, but they did. I don't know why they couldn't have diverted a few miles and gone another way, or what was so important that they had to risk their lives, but two men are now dead and buried because of it.
My flashbacks were to a similar incident several years ago, when the Battle River crossed Highway 4 south of Battleford. I was there from start to finish, and saw a similarly-aged man, also in his pickup, nearly lose his life.
The Battle River had risen due to ice jams, and I was there, with my camera on a tripod, documenting the action. When the water started to cross the road, I nearly got caught on the wrong side, and booted it back through a small amount of water.
That flow rapidly increased, however. The whole town was out to see the road flood. People could be seen on the hills around. Teenagers and sightseers decided it would be a fun thing to run back and forth through the increasingly flowing water. When I saw the water nearly cause a head on collision, I got worried, and started calling the fire department, Mounties, anyone, imploring them to shut down this highway before someone got themselves killed. The police told me that Highways indeed has someone right there, observing the situation. He was 20 yards from me the whole time.
Two more times head on collisions nearly occurred. Still, they did not shut down the highway. I strongly urged the man to do so, telling him I'm going to be taking pictures of a river rescue soon if he did not. Only a couple minutes later, that's exactly what happened.
The man driving northbound was swept off the roadway, and the pickup was soon floating into a large flooded field, sinking at the bow like the Titanic as it circled. The man climbed out of the passenger window, and into the truck bed. Then a miracle happened. In this wide field, the back of the truck settled on the top of a lonely four-inch wide fencepost. Anywhere else, and the man, who couldn't swim, would have drowned in the water that has ice chunks the size of refrigerators in it on the other side of the highway. It was by the grace of God that man was saved.
I was calling 911 as this happened, telling them to dispatch North Battleford's water rescue team from the fire service, because Battleford didn't have that capability. Over the next half hour, they came out, and with the assistance of the Mounties, were able to rescue the man.
While I felt Highways should have shut down that road long before, the ultimate responsibility laid with the drivers who must have thought, "Oh, it's just a bit of water."
This time, near Springside, there were no firefighters able to respond in time. There were no spectators. They were all by themselves.
Just a bit of water cost two men near Springside their lives. Maybe people should smarten up when it comes to flooded roads.
- Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at email@example.com