Updated: Search for man missing in Cowichan River called off

RCMP logo. - RCMP
RCMP logo.
— image credit: RCMP

Police have identified William Shearer as the man who went missing after he fell into the Cowichan River on Friday night.

The 58-year-old Calgary man fell into the river just before midnight, prompting an extensive air, ground and water search that was called off on Sunday at 5 p.m.

"His brother, who (Shearer) was visiting, has property that is adjacent to the river," explained Lake Cowichan Sgt. Dave Voller. "They were sitting around the campfire, having a couple of refreshments, then (Shearer) walked over to the river and there was a splash. It sounds like he fell in."

Lake Cowichan RCMP, fire department, and paramedics attended the scene at Greendale Road in Lake Cowichan, then called in Cowichan Valley Search and Rescue, which conducted ground and river searches during the night.

Search manager Christopher Comars said SAR's swift-water team, equipped with dry suits, head lamps and inflatable kayaks, were on the river within an hour or so.

SAR also set up a downstream containment team on the bridge at Skutz Falls, boasting a million-candle handheld search light, while ground searchers patrolled the river bank.

"The inflatable kayaks searched the area where the person went into the water, but then (around 3 a.m.) the mist rolled in and we had to take them in because visibility was reduced to essentially zero," Comars said.

But the team was back out again on Saturday.

"Help came in from Juan de Fuca SAR and Nanaimo SAR, and we had a fixed-wing aircraft plus the RCMP helicopter (patrolling the air)," said Comars. "We re-searched the areas we had covered in darkness, and searched a lot of areas we couldn't get to the night before.

"We found no evidence of the gentleman at all."

On Sunday, SAR volunteers were joined by the RCMP dive team, re-searching areas and covering new ground.

"River searches tend to be fairly dynamic, so it often pays to go and revisit areas that have been covered once, particularly as you move downstream," said Comars.

"There are a lot of obstructions in the river (right now), and that plays a part. The water isn't extraordinarily high, but it's fairly high, very fast and very dangerous, especially for those who lack equipment, or training, or happen to get into the water by misadventure."

The search effort was assisted by the people of Lake Cowichan, Comars added. For example, a local guide provided a boat to assist the RCMP dive team.

And that support is typical in communities such as Lake Cowichan and Duncan during search efforts, he said.

However, despite the exhaustive search, by 5 p.m. Sunday, Shearer had not been located, and the search was called off.

"Virtually every avenue of search was addressed," Voller told the News Leader Pictorial on Monday morning. "Something may happen when the river drops, but it's hard to say.

"We have every reason to believe (Shearer) is in the river."

Voller issued a reminder to be vigilant near the river, especially in the spring.

"With the warmer weather, people are up around the river more, but there's a large amount of water running through," he explained.

That means that spots people have safely gone before in the summer months are more dangerous in the spring.

"People need to exercise caution," he said.


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