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Tragic anniversary drives home importance of safety for Central Okanagan Search and Rescue

Click to play video: 'Central Okanagan Search and Rescue remembers fatal anniversary' Central Okanagan Search and Rescue remembers fatal anniversary
This weekend marks the eight-year anniversary of a tragedy on the water that continues to influence Okanagan search and rescue volunteers today – Jun 30, 2019

Eight years ago this weekend, a tragedy on the water gave the Central Okanagan Search and Rescue (COSAR) boat its name.

The Sweatman is named after Sheilah Sweatman, a Nelson Search and Rescue volunteer who drowned in the Goat River near Creston in June 2011.

Thousands attended the 29-year-old’s funeral, where she was remembered as a “powerful force with a generous heart.”

As a coroner’s inquest laid out, Sweatman was part of an attempt to remove a sunken vehicle from the river but drowned after her leg became tangled in a steel cable and she was pulled off a raft and into the current.

WATCH BELOW: From the archives: Thousands morn B.C. search and rescue technician
Click to play video: 'From the archives:  Thousands morn B.C. search and rescue technician' From the archives: Thousands morn B.C. search and rescue technician
From the archives: Thousands morn B.C. search and rescue technician – Jul 1, 2019

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For COSAR’s president, Sweatman’s death was an eye-opener.

“It wasn’t really an extreme thing that she was doing. It was an accident,” said Dan Schlosser, who had trained with Sweatman and attended her public funeral.

“Through proper planning and training, it probably could have been prevented.”

Schlosser said that since the young woman’s death, safety standards for search and rescue around the province have increased.

“We had certain standards before but now we just sort of upped our game a little bit,” he said.

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When crews head out on a search in the boat named in Sweatman’s honour, it serves as another reminder not to take shortcuts when it comes to safety.

“Every time that we talk about it we don’t say the boat… we say the Sweatman and it just kind of keeps it in the back of our mind… what had happened and moving forward, what can happen to any one of us as volunteers,” he said.

However, the COSAR president stressed that all lake users need to take water safety seriously, which includes wearing life-jackets and not drinking alcohol while boating.

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“We all know we need to have life-jackets on board but people like to use them as seat cushions and sit on them, but life-jackets are like seat belts — they are useless if you don’t have them on,” Sweatman said.

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COSAR has had three call outs on the lake already this year and the boating season is just beginning.

“The Okanagan is a great place to be,” Schlosser said. “You’re more than welcome to come and enjoy the festivities, just do it safely, especially on the water.”

Because COSAR doesn’t want to have to deploy the Sweatman looking for you.

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