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North Saskatchewan River search for suspected drowning victim now a recovery mission

Click to play video 'Search continues after man falls into river near Lake Louise' Search continues after man falls into river near Lake Louise
WATCH ABOVE: Members of Calgary's Sikh community are in shock as the search continues for Gagandeep Singh Khalsa. Friends say he fell into the North Saskatchewan River near the Glacier Lake Trail in Banff National Park. Adam Toy reports.

Alberta RCMP, Parks Canada and emergency crews are looking to recover the body of a 23-year-old Calgary man who is presumed to have drowned after falling into a river north of Lake Louise on Saturday.

Search and rescue efforts began around 7 p.m. on July 25, when emergency crews responded to a report that the man — who has since been identified as Gagandeep Singh Khalsa — had fallen into the North Saskatchewan River along the Glacier Lake trail and was swept away.

Gagandeep Singh Khalsa is pictured near the North Saskatchewan River in late July, 2020.
Gagandeep Singh Khalsa is pictured near the North Saskatchewan River in late July, 2020. Parmeet Singh Boparai

Khalsa was travelling to Jasper with two other friends when they stopped at Glacier Lake just after 6 p.m. RCMP said Khalsa and two others “stopped for photos beside the river while hiking when the incident occurred.”

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Friends said that was the last time they saw him.

“They jumped into the water trying to rescue [Khalsa], but they couldn’t find him,” friend Parmeet Singh Boparai told Global News on Monday. “The only thing they got was his turban. His turban was floating.”

Read more: Search continues near Lake Louise for Calgary man believed to have fallen into North Saskatchewan River

During a news conference Tuesday, officials said the search has turned into a recovery mission, as Khalsa has still not been found almost three days later.

“At this point, we don’t feel that there is any point in continuing the search in the capacity that we’ve been doing,” Parks Canada resource conservation manager Dwight Bourdin said in a news conference Tuesday.

“We have to give it some time and hope the body rises from the river and gets washed up on a place that’s more readily visible.”

The trail is at the north end of Banff National Park near Saskatchewan River Crossing — about 80 kilometres north of Lake Louise on Highway 93.

Gagandeep Singh Khalsa is pictured near the North Saskatchewan River in late July, 2020.
Gagandeep Singh Khalsa is pictured near the North Saskatchewan River in late July, 2020. Parmeet Singh Boparai

Bryan Webster, manager of visitor safety for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, said the remote location of the incident has made it difficult for responders to find the body.

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“We had the challenges of operating an extensive search in a remote area, getting helicopter fuel to the area, getting people into the area where the search was being conducted and we had to transport people on watercraft to the area,” he said.

While rescue efforts are scaling down, officials noted that emergency crews will still be out periodically searching the area.

“We find that we have a very good visual with the nature of terrain and river to search that area with a helicopter,” Webster said.

“We plan to go back to the area on Friday and do an air search, and if it’s possible then maybe also do a ground search.”

Read more: Lake Louise RCMP searching for man after possible drowning

The drowning has prompted officials to remind residents of water safety across the province.

Webster noted waterways are often overlooked as dangerous, however, he added people must always exercise caution when approaching any moving bodies of water.

“Swift-moving water isn’t as obvious of a hazard, but if you’re anywhere near it you need to be very careful and pay attention because if you fall in its going to be very hard to get out,” he said.

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“The water is very cold, it usually hovers around six or seven degrees, so it’s difficult to react and your body can freeze up.”

Khalsa was working as an office assistant at a Calgary medical office while waiting for his permanent residency papers, after graduating from Bow Valley College, his friends said. He recently got engaged during a trip to India.

Read more: Edmonton officials recommend against recreational activities on the North Saskatchewan River

— With files from Adam Toy, Global News