The unrelenting barking of a dog, the availability of an off-duty nurse and some campers-turned-heroes are what Cowichan Search and Rescue search manager Tina Phillips is crediting for a successful save along the Cowichan River on Sunday.
A middle-aged Cowichan Valley man was out for a walk with his dog near the Horseshoe Bend Campground at Cowichan River Provincial Park that morning when he fell down a rock face, sustaining critical injuries.
“He was walking the trail above,” Phillips explained. “He thinks he was stung by a bee or wasp and that happened at the same time that he fell.”
The incident occurred at roughly 8 a.m.
Phillips said the dog remained up top on the trail and began to bark.
“That’s what got the attention of the campers on the other side,” she said.
The campers quickly noticed the man in distress and jumped into the river to swim across.
One of them was able to reach 9-1-1 while the others tended to the injured man. Among them was an off-duty nurse. She took control.
“He had very serious injuries and they were able to provide first aid,” Phillips said. “He had serious bleeding and fractures, I understand.”
When paramedics arrived, they were unable to get across the river so the campers stepped up again, swimming back and forth across the water with the paramedics’ supplies,
The nurse, along with help from the campers and instructions from the paramedics across the river, managed the injuries until more help could arrive.
Phillips said the call for Cowichan Search and Rescue came around 11 a.m.
“We were training at the hall, which was fortunate because we had a large crew there,” she said.
SAR crews were able to get to the scene by 11:45 a.m.
“We weren’t clear on the location and you don’t have good cell coverage from the campsite so that was a bit of frustration for the people that were down there to relay information to us,” she said.
Seeing the air ambulance circling overhead was enough for Phillips and her crew to know the injuries were indeed serious, but because they weren’t briefed before they arrived, the SAR crew didn’t know how they’d be extracting the patient. The ropes team set up at the top of the cliff in the event they’d need a rope rescue from above. The swift water team set up at the river.
The river team was able to get paramedics across the water.
Given the seriousness of the man’s injuries, it took a while to stabilize him. Once stabilized, the man was carried in a stretcher to the SAR inflatable boat where he was brought back across the river.
“It was quite an effort,” Phillips said. “When you saw the stretcher finally get lifted off the ground after, all the campers started to clap. It must have been a very traumatic experience for them, feeling very helpless while they waited. It all seems to happen in slow motion but if not for those campers, they were able to provide the first aid that he needed because he did lose quite a lot of blood, I think there may have been a different outcome.”
The patient was then taken to the ambulance before being driven to a waiting air ambulance, which had landed at a nearby farm.
He was taken to hospital where he is recovering.
Phillips said the last report she heard was that the patient “was awake, alert and in good spirits — but he does had some significant injuries.”