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Lyn Edmonds, a rope rescue team member with Juan de Fuca Search and Rescue hangs off the side of the cliff at Marie Canyon as he brings the rescue basket with mock victim Arin Reim up from the shores of the Cowichan River during an exercise Sunday. - Malcolm Chalmers
Lyn Edmonds, a rope rescue team member with Juan de Fuca Search and Rescue hangs off the side of the cliff at Marie Canyon as he brings the rescue basket with mock victim Arin Reim up from the shores of the Cowichan River during an exercise Sunday.
— image credit: Malcolm Chalmers

It was one heck of a full moon weekend.

High wind warnings, Hydro outages all over the island, rain and snow — real.

The robbery in Duncan, campers at Skutz Falls terrorized then lost, and the murder? All fake.

But Cowichan Search and Rescue, the local amateur radio club and the RCMP all taking part in a elaborate training exercise?

That was completely legitimate.

Skutz Falls was the epicentre for Sunday’s SAR-sponsored multi-organization training exercise.

The scenario involved a liquor store robbery in Duncan that escalated to one criminal being murdered and thrown in the river. The criminals also confronted a family camping in the Skutz Falls/Marie Canyon area, leading to the family getting separated and lost.

Police nab another criminal who tells them the tale, leading to a major search and rescue effort.

SAR exercise co-ordinator Travis Bradley described “SAREX 14” as a mutual aid call-out training exercise involving RCMP, and SAR personnel from Cowichan, Ladysmith and Juan De Fuca as well as communication assistance by the Cowichan Valley Amateur Radio Society.

Swift-water rescue teams and high-angle rope teams were able to practice rescue techniques after the search crews combed the area to find the victims in an exercise involving more than 60 people.

Cowichan’s SAR’s command vehicle acted as the incident command post and the CVARS mobile communications trailer was used for communication assistance — each working with the RCMP because of the criminal component.

RCMP Inspector Ray Carfantan of the North Cowichan/Duncan detachment said SAR members would not have been used if criminals were at large. In this scenario the RCMP had the live criminal in custody extracting the information about the murder of the second criminal.

SAR stages exercises a couple of times a year, but not often on this scale. Civil aviation Search and Rescue aircraft were scheduled to take part, but were not able to attend because of the weather.

Snow, rain, fog and mostly cool temperatures lasted throughout the day, but it was not a huge issue for rescuers outfitted in protective gear.

SAR teams were equipped with a newer radio tracking system that would allow the incident command post to see where each team was located in real time.

After receiving instructions at base camp searchers made their way down the Cowichan River. They searched the Horseshoe Bend group campsite, the last known location of the family involved. That search led them to Marie Canyon where the body of the murdered criminal was found wedged in some log debris.

Further down river an injured woman — part of the lost family — was sitting on the shore. High angle rope teams were called in to extricate her up the side of the cliff to a waiting ambulance.

Clues and witnesses had been planted along the route for searchers to find — typical of what might happen in real-life situations. The day wrapped up with everyone being found safe.

As the park was still open to the public, SAR personnel were on hand to answer questions.

One fisherman, not part of the event, was a bit concerned when he sighted what he thought was a dead body. He was relieved when a SAR volunteer explained it was not real.

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