RCMP in Alberta are warning swimmers and rafters of the dangers of the Highwood River after a man died swimming there on the weekend.
Late Saturday afternoon, a 48-year-old man from the town of High River was swimming with his family near the old Wallaceville neighbourhood, when RCMP say he went off in search of deeper water.
“He was coming upstream here and looking for the deeper spot to swim in, and that was approximately 5:30, so that’s the last time he was seen by family members,” said Sgt. Brent Hawker with the High River RCMP.
“Once they discovered that he wasn’t coming back, they got concerned and went out looking for him. When it started to get dark, they decided to call the police.”
The victim was found Sunday morning. RCMP said he leaves behind a pregnant wife.
“It’s a real tragedy,” Staff Sgt. Robin Alexander said. “I talked to the victim’s brother just after we recovered the body. His wife had just arrived in Canada about two months ago from Guatemala.
“It’s really tough for the family.”
The Highwood River has been packed this summer providing cool relief from the heat. But visitors to High River are now being warned that the sleepy-looking river can be deadly.
“Hearing what happened to that gentleman the other day, we were informed to stay and use the water this side of the bridge and not go past the bridge,” said Chris Robb from Yellowknife, who was tubing in the river with his daughters on Monday. “We are staying in the shallow slow-moving water.”
The Highwood River is running very low this summer. But it can go from ankle deep to two metres very quickly with unexpected currents.
“You don’t see the current. Obviously as the water gets more shallow, you can see it pick up, but as it gets down to the deeper side here, it looks pretty benign,” Sgt. Hawker said. “But there is a current under there. On the outsides of the river, as you come through the curve, it increases in speed as the water passes through the curve and the river gets deeper.”
Alexander went to high school in High River and said he’ll never forget a close call with his girlfriend on the seemingly gentle water.
“We hit a branch and got sucked under the water into the undertow,” he said. “I came up right away; she didn’t come up for a long time.
“For me, it demonstrated you really need to respect rivers because you don’t know what the current is doing under the water, what’s under the water…And the power of the river is just incredible.”
According to the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, there have been 22 reported drowning deaths in Alberta in summer 2017.