Woman breaks her neck after falling from popular zipline at Kelowna, B.C., beach

Rachel Stanford gets some family hugs in hospital as she recovers from a broken neck and other injuries. (Submitted by Ben Stanford - image credit)
Rachel Stanford gets some family hugs in hospital as she recovers from a broken neck and other injuries. (Submitted by Ben Stanford - image credit)

A mother of six is recovering after breaking her neck in a fall from a zipline at a Kelowna, B.C., beach.

Rachel Stanford, 36, was enjoying the Sunday of the May long weekend with her husband Ben and her two youngest daughters at Gyro Beach in the Okanagan city.

Ben Stanford says their daughter Katie went on the zipline — which starts from a platform on the beach and extends out for a short distance into Okanagan Lake — before her mother climbed on.

"I saw Rachel set up and jump off the landing, and then I watched her go right to the end," Ben told Sarah Penton, host of CBC's Radio West, recalling the incident on May 21.

"When she hit the end, between the two posts, it kind of propelled her forward — she wound up upside down and landed [in the water] on her neck."

Sarah Penton/CBC
Sarah Penton/CBC

Rachel popped up immediately and started screaming, Ben said. Initially, he said, he thought she was yelling due to the shock of the cold water. But as he waded into the water to help, he saw blood trickling from her forehead, nose and mouth.

"She started saying, 'oh Ben, oh Ben, oh Ben,'" he said. "And then she said, 'I hurt my neck.' That's kind of when everything started to come into play."

Ben, the children and bystanders helped Rachel to the shore before Ben, who works as a care aide, stabilized his wife's neck while his daughter dialled 911. He described his wife as being in "agony" as they waited for an ambulance.

"It was actually quite a calm that came over me," Ben said of his reaction in the moment. "I didn't really fall apart for a day after.

"When I was leaving the hospital for the first time, to go tuck the kids into bed the day following, is kind of when ... I choked up and had some tears."

Submitted by Ben Stanford
Submitted by Ben Stanford

Ben says the lower part of Rachel's neck was badly injured in the accident and a nerve extending from her spine was being "impinged" due to the damage, leading to weakness, pain and burning down her right arm.

"One side is is drastically affected, but the prognosis is likely a full recovery. Still, it may need surgery. We're definitely not out of the woods for that," he said.

Unclear what caused injury

It's unclear whether Rachel's injury was caused by landing on the lake bed, or whether she hit a piece of debris in the lake.

The City of Kelowna temporarily closed and inspected the zipline afterwards.

In a statement, a city spokesperson said it was the first such incident they were aware of at the zipline, which the city says has been in place for at least 30 years.

"We do not typically survey the underwater areas at our beaches unless there has been a request for service. The city does undertake some beach maintenance when the lake level is low in the fall or late winter," the spokesperson said.

Submitted by Ben Stanford
Submitted by Ben Stanford

The spokesperson added that the city was looking at adding safety signage near the swing as part of their review of the incident.

The family began a fundraiser in order to cover medical costs and lost wages arising from the incident, and the goal was met within a few days.

"I'm just absolutely humbled and floored by the community [that] kind of wrapped itself around our family," Ben said.