The body of Lana Chipesia was located on Monday, July 4, six days after a search and rescue (SAR) operation resulted in the first-ever death of a SAR technician in the province.
Chipesia, a Creston resident, last seen driving her white Pontiac Sunfire. Sheilah Sweatman, 29, died June 29 as she was attaching a cable to a car in the middle of the rushing, swollen river.
“We located her body in the Goat River, a couple of kilometres from the bridge and before the Goat River enters the Kootenay River,” Const. Shelley Livingstone said late Monday afternoon. “The water was much calmer there and we were able to bring the body to the shore.”
Livingstone was part of a helicopter search that located Chipesia’s body.
“I think it’s a relief to everyone,” she said. “Her family gets some closure and SAR volunteers know that they were not searching in vain.”
Sweatman, a Ymir resident, was a member of a SAR swift water specialist team that was attempting to recover a vehicle then suspected of being owned by Chipesia.
The search and rescue mission began after a local male noticed damage to a concrete barrier near the Highway 21 bridge. Shortly after that discovery, a canoeist reported seeing a submerged vehicle less than 100 metres downstream from the bridge, Livingstone said on Monday.
Five SAR teams participated in the difficult recovery of Sweatman’s body and the search for Chipesia, who was suspected to have been in the car when it entered the river, resumed on Monday.
“It is a tragic day for BC Volunteer Search and Rescue Team members from across B.C., who saw the loss of a teammate yesterday,” RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said on Friday. “The death of Sheilah Sweatman marks the first time in BC SAR history that one of the province’s SAR volunteers was killed while in service. The RCMP and communities across B.C. offer their sincerest condolences to her family and co-workers.”
Following the daylong process of recovering Sweatman’s body from the fast-flowing waters, workers were able to attach a towline to the car, which was later identified as Chipesia’s vehicle. No occupants were found in the vehicle, but Livingstone said the driver’s side door was ajar and seatbelts were not engaged.
“RCMP investigators believe that Lana Chipesia was the driver and sole occupant of her vehicle at the time that it crashed into the Goat River,” Moskaluk said.
Premier Christy Clark and Solicitor General Shirley Bond extended their condolences to Sweatman’s family, friends and SAR colleagues on Friday.
“I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of this brave woman who lost her life during this search and rescue call-out,” said Clark. “As a province, we are extremely fortunate to have so many dedicated search and rescue volunteers who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and the community of Creston.”
“It is with deep sorrow that I learned of the tragic loss of this young woman. British Columbians are grateful for the courage and bravery of the men and women who help protect us through search and rescue groups across the province,” said Bond. “We cannot begin to express our gratitude to the thousands of SAR volunteers in this province who provide an invaluable service, giving selflessly of their time, to keep the public safe. This is a tragic example of the risk SAR personnel face and we will provide any support that is needed.”
”The British Columbia Search and Rescue Association has suffered an immense tragedy,” said Don Bindon, president of BC Search and Rescue Association. “The 2,500 volunteers in 80 B.C. communities who provide this service to citizens and visitors in our province are profoundly saddened by the loss of one of our own. Words cannot express the sympathy we feel for the family, friends and colleagues of our volunteer. Each day we accept that search and rescue work is not without risk but when it happens we realize we can never be prepared. Our SAR family will recover — the work is too important for us not to be there, but today is our worst day.”