The caller said a 32-year-old male from Niton Junction had been swept down the McLeod River near the bridge off Highway 32. As the individual was overtaken by the current, others in the immediate area scrambled to rescue him, but all attempts failed.
Emergency Services sprang into action as the Edson RCMP put both their helicopter and boat into service to try and find the swimmer. An aircraft from Alberta Agriculture also took to the skies to help. On the ground, the Yellowhead County Fire Department, Hinton Search and Rescue, Drayton Valley Search and Rescue, and Whitecourt Search and Rescue crews descended on the area to boost the efforts in locating the missing swimmer. Crews worked late into the evening, paused for the night, and then kicked back into gear the next day (June 3).
A person who knows the man, whose name shall not be printed, took to social media to get as much help as possible in finding the swimmer. She said that the man had been swimming with his young son and that he suddenly went under "screaming for help." They reported in their post, which was shared to numerous community pages in the area, that the man's mother had tried to rescue him and nearly drowned in the process.
The poster asked for help in all ways, from boaters to those with quads, horses, and drones, and also volunteers willing to help search on foot. She also mentioned that they had reached out to Terry Grant, also known as Mantracker, for his expertise. A 25-year veteran of the Foothills Search and Rescue Team and the star of the popular TV show by the same name, Grant lives near High River, Alberta and has worked with the British Military and the Edmonton Police Services K-9 training facility. Grant was set to arrive in Whitecourt on Sunday, June 6, to join the search.
Unfortunately, Mantracker could not help in the end, and neither could other organizations due to what she referred to as jurisdiction issues with the RCMP. According to the poster, people searching could only do so as volunteers, and organizations/businesses could only join if it were considered a training exercise. The RCMP could not be reached in time for comment.
Comments on her post from property owners living along the river popped up as residents laced up their boots and walked along the river's edge searching for the missing man. The sheer number of people that commented on her posts offering help is a testament to the power of community. As one commenter stated, "we are truly blessed to live in an area where people pull together to help others in their time of need." Along with keeping people updated and continually seeking more help for their loved ones, the poster also stated that she had been walking the area along the river on foot. Individual boaters joined in, too, as residents from multiple communities did everything in their power to find the missing man.
Early in the evening on Sunday, June 6, the poster revealed that the man was found but that, sadly, he was deceased. An official police report was not out before printing. The Whitecourt Press wishes to send sincere condolences to the man's family and friends on their tragic loss.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press