The bystanders who sprang into action after a car crashed into Silver Hope Creek Sunday describe a dramatic rescue effort that saved the lives of two women trapped inside the submerged vehicle.
At around 11 a.m. Sunday, June 3, A Nissan Pathfinder with three people inside slid off Silver Skagit Road around five kilometres north of Hope, into the creek below. The three trapped inside the vehicle, one unconscious and another with a broken arm, were rescued and brought to shore by fellow travelers moments after the crash.
Chilliwack resident Rachel Rollins was on her way back from a weekend camping trip up the Skagit when she came around a bend in the road and saw a woman beside a motorhome, yelling “there’s a truck in the water.”
Her thoughts immediately went to her brother, who had been traveling in a truck ahead of her. She was out the door of her motorhome even before it had slowed to a stop.
What she saw when she reached the edge of the creek was the Pathfinder upside down with only one-quarter of the doors visible above the fast-moving water. She saw one woman with a broken arm being helped to shore by the driver of the vehicle.
“My friend’s stuck underwater and she’s stuck in her seatbelt. We can’t get her out. Please help her, she’s dying,” Rollins remembers the woman saying.
As Rollins went into the water to retreive the unconscious woman, she saw her and quickly realized she wouldn’t be able to remove her alone. She ran back up the bank to get her partner Tyler Colban. Her son Justin Rollins stayed on the 911 call.
By this time Mission resident Don Neste had arrived on the scene. He first saw the driver clambering on top of the overturned vehicle trying to get two passengers out.
“I didn’t even think, I sort of just ran in the water,” he said. He immediately saw the passengers were in bad shape.
“(The driver) had a broken hand and he was bleeding, and the girl with the broken arm also smashed her face into something so she was in bad shape too. It was pretty ugly,” Neste recounted.
Neste, Colban and the driver of the vehicle then struggled against a raging current to get the unconscious woman out of the car and onto shore. Neste lost both of his shoes to the icy rushing water, which was at times up to his neck. Colban had to grab onto Neste’s belt buckle to keep him from being dragged in by the current.
At one point, when the rescue of the third passenger was looking unlikely, Neste began to plan for the worst. “I started looking downstream to see where I might get swept away to if I was going to have to make it to shore somehow. I was concerned a bit there,” he said.
The three managed to get the passenger out, but were unsure whether she would survive after being submerged for several minutes.
“We didn’t think she was even alive. Tyler said to me ‘I thought I was pulling a dead girl out’, that’s how bad it was. She was completely blue and unresponsive,” Rollins remembers. Rachel wrapped a blanket around the woman, who later told her she was 20 years old. Her and Colban sat on opposite sides of the woman, holding her as she regained consciousness.
The rescue took all of three or four minutes, Rachel said, but it felt like an hour. Neste said it felt like a blur, he couldn’t say how long it took.
Paramedics arrived five minutes later. They told the rescuers how close of a call it had been with the trapped passenger.
“Without those three in the water saving her, she wouldn’t have made it. And the paramedics said that, there was no way, one more minute and she would have been gone,” Rollins said.
All three passengers in the crash sustained non-life-threatening injuries, Cpl. Mike Rail, spokesperson for the RCMP’s Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment confirmed. Rail said neither speed, alcohol or drugs were factors in the crash.
The rescue was the most traumatic thing Rollins has ever seen, adding she and her son have been speaking about it every day since. She keeps going back to the moment when she saw the woman unconscious in the overturned vehicle, then she has to remind herself of the fact this woman is alive because of her and the other rescuers.
“It’s a strange feeling. I don’t know these people, but I just want to hug them. Is that weird?” Rollins said of her emotions less than a week after the event. “It’s such an amazing feeling, just to know that you were there at the right time and you can help somebody. And that it actually makes a difference.”
After two crashes on Silver Skagit Road near Hope last week, the other a single-vehicle crash May 30, the RCMP is urging drivers to slow their speed and drive with care on rural gravel roads.
“We caution everyone to take your time when you’re on those roads. Be cognizant of your speed,” Rail said. “They are gravel roads and you just have to be careful of your speed and remain alert.”
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