Surviving the Similkameen
Victor and Nada Stankovic were on a June, 1982 early morning trip for a camper holiday in Penticton. A few kilometers past Manning Park they rounded a steep rock cliff that looked down on a full-torrent, pounding Similkameen River about 10 meters below them. Just then one wheel hit a rock on the road, bouncing the vehicle out of control and catapulting it over the cliff. The camper rolled twice and landed upright in the middle of the raging river. The current began to carry it backward until it jammed on a huge boulder, with freezing water rushing into the cab. With great difficulty Victor managed to open one door slightly against the wild, 75 km/hr current so that they could squeeze through and reach the top of the camper. They were trapped. Any attempt to swim to shore would be suicidal.
A passing traveler saw them and phoned for help. Vacation-bound Norm Walker of the Canadian Coast Guard was flagged down. Park Rangers Peter Marochi and Peter Robinson were joined by RCMP Mark Oliver in seeking to help in the rescue effort as more than 50 passers-by watched. Even a stunned Mick Stankovic just happened to stop as he was passing through, only to find that it was his father and mother in the river. Someone urged Norm Lesage to bring his helicopter from where he was staying in a nearby cabin. Looking at the narrow passage-way between 30 meter lodgepole pines on either bank, he doubted his skills at performing a rescue. Victor and Nada Stankovic’s physical conditions were deteriorating. If rescue wasn’t achieved soon they would likely be lost to the current. Rescue attempts by ropes nearly caused the drowning of Victor and Ranger Robinson. It would have to be the helicopter for Nada. A very risky venture. A rescue harness was hastily fashioned as best they could and the two Rangers put their lives in jeopardy getting it to the camper. Three trips later, Lesage had successfully piloted the helicopter to bring all three off the camper. Five men: Walker, Robinson, Marochi, Oliver and Lesage, were awarded St. John Life Saving medals, RCMP Commendation for Bravery and the Governor General’s Medal of Bravery. Well deserved!
(Based on an article by Lynne Schuyler in the April, 1985 issue of Reader’s Digest.)
It may well be that dozens of volunteers in communities across B.C. and Canada are also serving heroically during this flood season. We are thankful for them.
I’ll be thinking about this when I pass that point on Hwy 3.