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Coroners deem two fatal falls near Shuswap park accidental

Click to play video: 'Safety changes underway at Sicamous park after fatal falls' Safety changes underway at Sicamous park after fatal falls
Safety changes are underway after two hikers fell to their deaths last year near the same Shuswap park. As Megan Turcato reports, the news comes as the Coroners Service releases its findings on the twin tragedies – Feb 20, 2020

Two separate fatal falls last year in the area of the same Shuswap park have both been deemed accidents by the B.C. Coroners Service.

The separate accidents, which claimed the lives of a 27-year-old Malakwa, B.C. man and Edmonton public school principal Dave Kowalchuk, occurred in the area of Sicamous Creek Trails less than three months apart.

Separate coroners’ reports into both deaths were released to the media on Thursday.

READ MORE: Edmonton principal identified as man killed in Sicamous Creek fall

After the second fall in late July, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, which is responsible for the trails, announced it was closing the trail system indefinitely while an assessment was completed.

The regional district says the park wasn’t closed after the first fatality because it was clear the hiker had gone off the marked trail, past warning signs, into a dangerous area.

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“It was initially felt that the marked trails were safe and that this was a one-time incident,” said regional district spokesperson Tracy Hughes.

“People take risks and unfortunately we can’t mitigate every single risk but that’s why we brought in an independent safety assessor.”

Click to play video: 'Shuswap park closed after second fatal fall' Shuswap park closed after second fatal fall
Shuswap park closed after second fatal fall – Jul 31, 2019

The coroners’ reports reveal that independent assessment commissioned by the regional district recommend safety changes.

According to the coroners’ reports, the recommendations included “blocking off unofficial paths that had been cut by previous hikers that led to the cliff edge,” and “improved signage and public information that describes the trail as a loop hike rather than a view hike to discourage users from trying to get to the edge for a view.”

“All the recommended changes from the report are being worked on and the trails will not be reopened until every single one of those has been completed,” Hughes said.

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The regional district is hoping to reopen the park this spring. When it does, it’s urging all trail users to stick to the path.

140 m fall

The first fall occurred when a “rock gave way” while a 27-year-old Malakwa man was hiking with two friends in the area in mid-May, according to the coroner’s report.

Flanagan said the trio “had left the main trail and went into an area with a steep rock face” and had “climbed up to a cave on the rock face and were taking photos when the rock gave way.”

The report said the young man ended up falling an estimated 140 metres “down a steep embankment” and landing on his back in the creek-bed with a traumatic head injury.

READ MORE: Search and rescue crews to attempt body recovery of fallen hiker near Sicamous

The coroners report said CPR was attempted unsuccessfully and the man’s body was retrieved the next day with the help of a search and rescue helicopter.

Flanagan concluded that the 27-year-old had tied as the result of a “traumatic head injury due to a fall” and that “alcohol intoxication was contributory.”

Edmonton principal falls to his death

Less than three months later, at the end of July 2019, Dave Kowalchuck, an Edmonton public school principal fell to his death on the Sicamous Creek Trail system.

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The coroner’s report said the 53-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alberta was hiking on an upper trail with a family member.

Coroner Andrew Cave said a family member was not with Kowalchuck when he fell.

“The family member arrived back at the parking lot and became concerned as Mr. Kowalchuck seemed to be taking a long time to return,” Cave wrote.

The coroner said while Kowalchuk’s relative was looking for him another hiker on a lower trail found his body on the path

He is believed to have fallen around 30 metres.

READ MORE: Fatal fall at Sicamous Creek Trails claims life of Alberta man

Emergency crews were dispatched to the scene but the coroner said: “resuscitation was not viable.”

In a statement, Kowalchuck’s employer Edmonton Public Schools described him as a “passionate educator and leader who brought a love of learning to school each and every day.”

The day after Kowalchuck’s death the trail system was closed.

The coroner concluded he died of “multiple blunt force trauma” from the fall and said a “toxicological examination detected no substances.”

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