Stolen Mazda pickup truck is hauled straight up out of the waters of Harris Creek by a Sikorsky air crane in November 2009. (Lake Cowichan Gazette)

Lake Flashback: Tragedy strikes the Lake, RCMP call in Sikorsky chopper, and thieves leave their tools behind

Three accidental deaths in one grim week, and air crane required to save fish from wrecked truck

Welcome to Lake Flashback. Reporter Lexi Bainas has been combing through old newspapers with the assistance of the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives so we can jog your memory, give you that nostalgic feeling, or just a chuckle, as we take a look at what was making headlines this week around Cowichan Lake in years gone by.

This week around the Cowichan Lake area…

10 years ago:

“Stolen truck airlifted from Harris Creek” was the headline on the front of the Lake Cowichan Gazette of Sept. 18, 2009.

Gazette editor Doug Marner managed to get out to the site in time to get a couple of stunning pictures of the event as well as the story.

Ryan Eve knew exactly when his 1992 Mazda pickup truck was stolen from his Mesachie Lake home on Forestry Road. It was at about 2:30 a.m. on Thursday.

“We could hear someone drive off with it,” said Eve. “The muffler makes enough noise that I think they just decided to gun it and take off rather than sneak away.”

Just two hours later, someone driving the Pacific Marine Circle Route reported to police that there was a truck partially submerged in Harris Creek, about 24 kilometres south of Mesachie Lake. It was Eve’s truck. No one was located with the vehicle.

Sgt. Dave Voller of the Lake Cowichan RCMP then had to make a decision. With an estimated 10,000 coho salmon and steelhead in the creek and the chances of more rain swelling the water that would then push the truck onto some rocks downstream, how was he going to get the truck out of the water without causing environmental damage? Using a tow truck to get the truck out wouldn’t likely work and time was critical.

“I didn’t want to wait because if that truck got onto the rocks there would have been all kinds of oil, gasoline, brake fluid, antifreeze and battery acid getting into the stream,” said Voller. “That just isn’t acceptable as far as I’m concerned, not with all those fish in the creek.”

He called Canadian Air-Crane Ltd. of Vancouver, which was doing some heli-logging in the area. The company would be able to help, but then the question became who would pay for it.

In the end, Voller decided to have Canadian Air-Crane help and just after 4 p.m. on Thursday a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane, with Mark Allan and Brian Penner flying the aircraft, came to the rescue, with Penner as the pilot. Flying down through the clouds like a giant grasshopper, with the main propeller causing a hurricane force wind that makes it dangerous to stand, the huge chopper lowered its clamp and hauled the truck straight up out of the water.

25 years ago:

“Surprised thieves leave fingerprints and wrench set” says the headline on the front page of The Lake News of Nov. 16, 1994.

Homeowners on Grant’s Lake Road and Old Lake Cowichan Road may both have accidentally chased off would-be thieves, says Sgt. Ron Merchant, RCMP.

On Grant’s Lake Road, thieves broke into a house Wednesday evening between 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. while the homeowners were out. When they returned they thought they chased the thieves away but they didn’t go empty handed. They took a television set, VCR, and stereo. The master bedroom had been ransacked and a new pair of running shoes were taken. A microwave oven and a breadmaker were moved but not taken. From the garage, the thieves took some tools. Fingerprints are being checked.

About 1:30 a.m. Thursday a resident of Cowichan Lake Road went outside when he heard a noise. He heard a car door slam and found someone had pushed his vehicle backwards into an antique car, smashing tail lights. A new socket wrench set was found by police. It is believed to have been owned by the thieves who left it when taken by surprise. It is being checked for fingerprints, said Sgt. Merchant.

40 years ago:

The Lake News of Nov. 14, 1979 shared the stories of “a week of tragedy for Cowichan Lake” as accidents took a heavy toll on the area.

A faller, well-known and a mate of many loggers, was killed when he was struck by a falling tree. A Youbou mill worker was killed when a massive piece of equipment fell on him. And a visiting youth from California was killed by a chipper truck in Youbou.

Inquests have been announced for two of the deaths and a decision is forthcoming on the traffic fatality.

The logger who died was Sidney Crisp, 62, of Nanaimo. Crisp had been a logger in the Cowichan Lake area for many years. He was killed accidentally Nov. 6 at Caycuse when struck by a tree which apparently collapsed because of a rotten core. The tree, which was being felled by another logger dropped in a direction different from where it was being directed, apparently because of an unsound core. Coroner Robert Wilson has set the inquest for Dec. 11.

The Youbou mill tragedy occurred Nov. 10. Patrick John Kretschmer, 17, of Youbou was killed when a triple table, which weighs more than one ton, fell on him while he was performing a maintenance task at the veneer plant at Youbou.

The third person killed was Darren Robert Billa, 12, of Santa Ana, Calif. He died about 8:40 p.m. Nov. 9 when he ran into the path of a chipper truck driven by Kenneth H. Nelson of Duncan. Witnesses told police that the boy had been playing on the roadway when the accident occurred.

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