The Rescuers and the Rescued: Drama During BC’s Storm, Floods

The Rescuers And The Rescued: Drama During Bc’S Storm, Floods

“It was nice to get there and get those mostly young families out of there,” said military pilot who brought 95 people to safety.

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Captain Jeffery Barth and his giant Cormorant helicopter have rescued about 95 people and seven dogs stranded by mudslides on Highway 7 near Agassiz, just one of many rescue teams working together to rescue hundreds of British Columbias trapped in cars and buildings during the week of devastating storm.

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“From the pilot’s seat… I could see them walking in the helicopter and I saw a lot of little kids and stuff. And I could see they were clearly cold and tired. And they looked very grateful, thankful to finally get out of there,” said Barth, a pilot with the 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron based at Canadian Forces Base in Comox.

“I also have young children. It was nice to get there and get those mostly young families out of there after being out in the cold all night.”

Early Monday, 442 Squadron sent three military helicopters to Highway 7 between Agassiz and Hope to help evacuate 275 people, including 50 children, trapped by mudslides . Barth, who has been conducting these types of missions for nine years, said the rescue was unusual given the extent of damage and the number of people to be rescued.

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“Usually it’s just a few people or something like that. But we could see the size of the slides, which of course was quite alarming. And then we could see all the cars in between, so that was alarming too,” he said.

Barth flies along with a copilot and three other crew members who assisted where the yellow helicopter was able to land safely on Monday to pick up the stranded motorists.

Captain Jeffery Barth.
Captain Jeffery Barth. Photo by RCAF

“We got a little swayed by the wind, so that was the biggest challenge from a pilot’s perspective, as well as some poor visibility just with extreme rain showers coming through,” he said.

“The people who were ready to be helped, they all seemed to be in pretty good shape, except just tired and probably cold.”

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Barth’s helicopter made eight trips, with an average of 15 evacuees on board at a time. He flew them quite a short distance to an open area beyond the mudslide, where buses took passengers to a nearby emergency center.

The three military helicopters worked as a team with firefighters, police and search and rescue teams, and all those trapped along Highway 7 were safely out by nightfall.

“It was nice to see the different agencies all working together,” said Barth. “You never have the perfect plan to start with, but as it unfolds, you see it all coming together. And luckily we got everyone out before it got too dark.”

Danielle Jalbert Was Stranded With Three Dogs.
Danielle Jalbert was stranded with three dogs.

Danielle Jalbert spent Sunday night in her car with three dogs — her six-year-old chocolate lab and two young rescue puppies she’s raising — on Highway 7, before being picked up there by helicopter Monday afternoon. She doesn’t know if Barth was the pilot, but was nevertheless very grateful to see the plane come to the rescue.

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“I’m just thankful we got an airlift and didn’t have to sleep another night in our car,” she said Tuesday.

Jalbert had been diverted to Highway 7 due to other road closures while attempting to drive from a friend’s cabin in Clearwater to her home in Delta, when all traffic outside Kent stopped around 8 p.m. The motorists tried to help each other get through the night: two nurses offered medical attention to everyone who needed it, an off-duty police officer tried to keep everyone informed of what was going on and someone started the Facebook group ” Stuck on 7″ so people could share food and other essentials, including insulin for a man who wasn’t traveling with his medication.

Jalbert had some food in the car for her and the dogs, and had just filled up in Princeton, so she could occasionally crank the engine to warm up and charge her phone. But it was still a difficult, sleepless night.

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“It was really dark there. The weather was clearly terrible,” she says. “There were a lot of waterfalls running across the road and the road was very wet and flooded. So we didn’t even know if there was going to be another slide.”

When the helicopters landed the next morning, they took the elderly and anyone in need of medical attention first, followed by children with families. When it was Jalbert’s turn, her dogs were afraid to board, so strangers helped the animals in and helped keep them calm during the flight.

“A lot of people were scared, but I thought (the flight) was a really good experience, although (being stranded) is obviously a terrible thing to experience,” said Jalbert, who is staying with a friendly stranger in Chilliwack until the roads open so that she can return to Delta.

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Kent-Harrison Search And Rescue Boat On Tuesday.
Kent-Harrison search and rescue boat on Tuesday. Photo by Justin Spencer

People were rescued not only by air, but also by water.

Justin Spencer and three friends, all volleyball players from Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, were trapped in a cabin on Harrison Lake on Sunday when a mudslide blocked the only road to the area. By noon, the students, all between the ages of 18 and 24, were low on food and hope, so they called 911 but were told it could be several days before someone could reach them.

Justin Spencer'S Three Friends, On The Kent-Harrison Sar Boat.  Photo By Justin Spencer
Justin Spencer’s three friends, on the Kent-Harrison SAR boat. Photo by Justin Spencer Photo by Justin Spencer

But on Tuesday morning, a Kent-Harrison Search and Rescue boat picked them up and took them to Harrison Hot Springs, where a friend’s mother took them to Chilliwack and fed them much-needed food. Spencer lost eight pounds, he said, during the three-day adventure, but is thankful he is safe.

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“Looking at the water the day before, it rose about five feet from the moment we got there. And we saw the waves in those days and thought, ‘I don’t know how to get out, with the slides and all the trees in the water,’ he recalled Tuesday.

“It was reassuring to see a nice search and rescue boat and the police officer on board.”

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