Calgary man swept away in river

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 07:53 am

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Foothills emergency officials are searching for a Calgary man after he disappeared when he was swept away in the Highwood River on the evening over the weekend.

However, Search crews are holding off their search for 19-year-old Justin MacNeil due to unsafe river conditions for search and rescue crews. It was reported MacNeil went for a swim in the fast-flowing Highwood River northeast of Okotoks the early evening hours of June 22.

“We are monitoring the area, but until we have a new search area we’ve exhausted all of our avenues for now,” said Okotoks RCMP Sgt. Donna Rorison.

“We don’t have any indication that he came out of the water, which is why there is not an activated search and rescue,” she said.

Foothills search and rescue crews used boats and the Calgary Police Service dispatched HAWCs to search the Highwood River, its banks and the surrounding area from where it was reported MacNeil entered the water to about 10 kilometres downstream.

Rorison said emergency crews are looking into getting a dive team into the river once the water levels and river speed are safer, hopefully towards the end of this week.

Rorison said MacNeil and four of his friends, who live in the Calgary area, were spending the day at Nature’s Hideaway Family Campground.

They were at a popular swimming area when MacNeil entered the Highwood River close to where it merges with the Bow River and was caught in the current and swept downstream.

“They followed him quite a ways down the river (on foot),” she said.

The Highwood River is very high and fast due to a large amount of rainfall last week. It also contains a high amount of debris following last year’s flood and is very dangerous, said Rorison.

“The water is high, it’s fast, it’s cold, it’s dirty,” she said. “The current itself will pull you down.”

Rorison said instances where people think it’s safe enough to swim when rivers are high and dangerous are more common than she likes.

“We are a country of lakes and water and there is far too many instances,” she said. “You have to be careful where you swim. The shore banks are dangerous out there. We just think people need to be very careful until the water goes down.”

Rorison said the RCMP are looking into whether alcohol was a factor in the incident.

Anyone with any information related to this incident is encouraged to contact the Okotoks RCMP at 403-938-4202.


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