‘Inadequate planning’ led to SAR volunteer’s death, report says

Coroner’s inquest into Sheilah Sweatman’s 2011 death in Goat River begins Monday in Nelson. 

  • Nov. 19, 2012 3:00 p.m.
Sheilah Sweatman

Sheilah Sweatman

Greg Nesteroff/Nelson Star

WorkSafeBC’s investigation into the drowning of a Nelson Search and Rescue volunteer in the Goat River near Creston last year concludes several planning failures contributed to her death.

The 45-page report, finalized a day before the first anniversary of the tragedy and obtained by the Nelson Star through a Freedom of Information request, reveals Sheilah Sweatman, 29, died after her leg became tangled in a steel rigging cable, pulling her from her raft.

Sweatman was trying to attach the cable to a sunken vehicle, later found to contain the body of Lana Chipesia, 23, who went missing several days earlier.

The report says several things went wrong, beginning when the submerged car unexpectedly began to move downstream, taking the raft with it. Somehow the two accidentally became attached by the steel rigging equipment.

The cable soon became an unmanageable hazard to the raft’s crew: as it began to uncoil, it caught Sweatman’s left leg, pulled her off the boat and pinned her colleague in his seat. The second crew member was able to free himself and get a strong grip on Sweatman, but the vehicle’s pull was ultimately too great.

The report says that while the crew was warned to steer clear of the cable, this wasn’t practical since it was on the boat’s floor, near their feet.

“The small area available for the team to store and handle the steel equipment made the chance of accidental contact likely,” the report reads.

The procedure for connecting the vehicle to the tow truck was supposed to ensure the raft was never connected to the tow cable system, but “The close quarters available to the team made it difficult to maintain adequate separation.”

The report also concludes the plan was “inadequate” because it didn’t include any way to rescue someone who got caught in the cable. It depended on caution and self-rescue, but there was no way for someone who became tangled to cut themselves free.

“The control provision for this hazard was that the [raft] team members were to be careful not to put their feet or hands in the coil of the steel cable,” the report read. “There were no other controls and no instructions on how to respond if a team member did become entrapped in a coil.”

After Sweatman landed in the river, a rescue boat and swimmers weren’t able to reach her. There were no tools available to cut the steel cable.

The report said introducing steel rigging into the operation without proper safeguards was contrary to several principles of swift-water rescue certification — although none of the 21 well-trained search members on site objected to its use.

“This oversight in the planning stage precipitated a chain of events that endangered both of the [raft] team members but from which [Sweatman] was ultimately unable to recover,” the report said.

The report ruled out a number of other factors as contributing to the tragedy, including fatigue, hypothermia, training levels, and the presence of video cameras to take footage for a reality TV show. Investigators concluded there was no evidence the cameras — including one on Sweatman’s helmet — affected or influenced anyone involved in the operation.

Most equipment functioned properly, including Sweatman’s lifejacket, dry suit and helmet, as well as the rope and rigging system known as a tension diagonal. Searchers explained Sweatman’s boat, a dual-pontoon sport craft with two seats in the middle, known as a cataraft, was better suited to the task than a power boat.

The report is expected to be entered into evidence during the coroner’s inquest into Sweatman’s death, which begins Monday in Nelson. Sweatman’s father says several parallel investigations by other agencies reached the same broad conclusions.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RDEK reminds public to register for their emergency notification system. File photo.
RDEK reminds residents to register for East Kootenay Evacuation Notification System

Provincial Alert system cannot be used for local emergencies

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 70 new cases overnight

The total number of cases in the region is now at 1,426

David Moskowitz file
Wildsight to present webinar on Inland Temperate Rainforest

Join Wildsight next Tuesday, December 1, 2020 for a free webinar on… Continue reading

College of the Rockies Avalanche volleyball coaches (l-r) Bryan Fraser and Cisco Farrero continue to help their players develop their skills, despite the cancellation of competitive play for the 2020 academic year. (Submitted file)
Winter 2021 Avalanche volleyball season cancelled

Pacwest has curtailed competitive play for the winter 2021 semester

Aquatic Centre at Western Financial Place. Photo courtesy City of Cranbrook.
Cranbrook aquafit classes temporarily shut down amid updated COVID-19 rules

All indoor group fitness activities are currently suspended province-wide

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

FILE - This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.  Pfizer announced Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, more results in its ongoing coronavirus vaccine study that suggest the shots are 95% effective a month after the first dose. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)
VIDEO: B.C. planning for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the first weeks of 2021

The question of who will get the vaccine first relies on Canada’s ethical framework

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Canada can make vaccines, just not the ones leading the COVID-19 race

Canada has spent more than $1 billion to pre-order seven different developing COVID-19 vaccines

British Columbia Premier John Horgan speaks during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Horgan is set to introduce his NDP government’s new cabinet Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP cabinet built to tackle pandemic, economic recovery, says former premier

Seven former NDP cabinet ministers didn’t seek re-election, creating vacancies in several high-profile portfolios

The COVID-19 test centre at Peace Arch Hospital is located on the building’s south side. (Tracy Holmes photo)
B.C. woman calls for consistency in COVID-19 post-test messaging

‘Could we just get one thing straight?’ asks Surrey’s Deb Antifaev

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

Most Read