Body recovered from Gatineau River
Published Friday, September 4, 2015 5:17PM EDT Last Updated Friday, September 4, 2015 9:07PM EDT
Police have recovered a body from the Gatineau River where they had been searching for a 23-year-old from Zimbabwe who was swept away last evening as he swam with friends near the historic Wakefield covered bridge.
A positive identification still needs to be made.
Police divers arrived late Friday afternoon to begin the search for the young man. Meantime, his parents who live in South Africa are frantically trying to get here to identify their son, once his body is found. For hours, police patrol boats have gone up and down this stretch of the Gatineau River, looking for the body of the young Algonquin student.
The search had begun last night, after the man's three friends reported him missing. The four of them, all students, had come to the area around 5:30 p.m. to swim and party before the start of school next week.
‘What we know from the investigation,’ says Constable Martin Fournel with the MRC des Collines Police, ‘is that he was not a good swimmer and that alcohol was involved. We don't know how many drinks but we know from witnesses that alcohol was involved.’
Beer bottles litter the shoreline of this popular swimming spot right by the historic Wakefield covered bridge.
It is beautiful but dangerous as well, now more so than ever as the water is high and the current is strong.
Sean Botti and his girlfriend Brittany Amell swim in the river at this spot often and know the risks associated with an unsupervised, fast-flowing river.
‘Once you get 20 or 30 feet out,’ says Botti, ‘you can tell the current is pulling you towards the rapids. You need to be mindful of that.’
Richard Scarborough was fishing on the river this morning when he heard about the drowning and decided to see if he could help in the search. He says the current is faster than he’s ever seen it before.
‘I wouldn’t go in the water, even with my vest. I wouldn’t go in it.’
John Sider lives in the area and was also here to help find the body. His cousin drowned years ago near Niagara. He had also been drinking and swimming.
‘My cousin was a bronze swimmer,’ says Sider, ‘it’s not like he didn't know the water, but it can happen to anyone and that's how fast.’
The 23-year-old was last seen about 100 metres downstream from where he first entered the water, frantically waving his hands, clearly in distress. Then, police say, he disappeared under the water.
Police don't believe the group was jumping from the covered bridge. While swimming in the river is legal, jumping off the bridge carries a stiff fine.
For the locals, it is a sad reminder that the river needs to be treated with the respect it deserve.
‘It’s scary to see,’ says resident Naomi Fishman, who says the area is crowded with people on the weekends, unfamiliar with the water and the current, ‘sometimes there's more than one person jumping at a time from the bridge all at once. There’s drinking down here. It’s sad that someone has to die and I just hope lessons are learned.’
Clearly, it is not a lesson everyone has learned. This afternoon, while police were patrolling the river, looking for the young man's body, a group of young people were caught jumping off the bridge into the water. They were fined $275.