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Hope fades for three missing after fatal B.C. canoeing accident

Jule Wiltshire-Padfield, right, of New Denver, was dating Lily Harmer-Taylor, left. She couldn’t be revived after she was found unconscious in a partially submerged canoe Saturday. Wiltshire-Padfield and two others who were also in the canoe are still missing.


The hope that three males who haven't been seen since a canoe accident would somehow be found alive has faded, with the RCMP announcing its search of Slocan Lake is now being considered a "recovery mission."

The accident killed four young people in all and the mayor of the small, close-knit town of New Denver, B.C., says her community is "reeling."

Dive teams were back in the icy water Monday, but the temperature and depth of the lake made finding the bodies a challenge.

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The cause of the accident remains a mystery.

The canoe became submerged at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The RCMP were called after a man who had been walking along the beach saw two people were clinging to the canoe.

First responders found 19-year-old Lily Harmer-Taylor inside the boat. She was unconscious and later died in hospital.

The search for the three males – Hayden Kyle, 21; Skye Donnet, 18; and Jule Wiltshire-Padfield, 15 – began Saturday night and resumed Sunday, with police holding out hope the three had somehow found their way to shore.

Monday, RCMP spokesman Sergeant Darryl Little said that optimism was gone.

Two RCMP dive boats were on the water but Sgt. Little said the conditions were proving to be a challenge. The temperature of the water, he said, was close to zero and was limiting how deep the divers could go.

RCMP had initially believed the area in which the canoe went down was about 75 metres deep; Sgt. Little said it now appears to be closer to 150 metres.

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He could not say how much longer the search would go on.

Three of the people on the canoe lived in New Denver, about 300 kilometres east of Kelowna. The fourth was from the Sunshine Coast community of Gibsons.

New Denver has a population of just over 500. The kindergarten to Grade 12 school counts about 100 students.

Ann Bunka, the town's mayor, said Monday that the accident had hit the town hard.

"New Denver and all the communities along Slocan Lake are reeling with this tragedy. This is a small community and every accident and loss is personal. This is a close-knit community that rallies together in times of need and never has this been more apparent," she wrote in a statement.

The mayor noted counselling has been made available at the school. A letter, written by principal Andrew Neilson, was also sent home to parents.

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"Our school is hurting as a result of the tragedy that occurred this weekend involving youth from our school and community. I want you to know that we are doing everything reasonably possible to help our students through this and to support the affected families in our community," the letter said.

Isaac Carter, who was friends with those on the canoe, said a sacred fire would burn in their honour for four days at the water's edge. He said some people had also set candles adrift.

Mr. Carter said area residents live on the water, where things can change in an instant.

"We've all done it. We live on the lake, we play on the lake. It's that one time," he said. "The weather changes here by the minute and everything went wrong at one moment and we will never know what happened."

Police have said the four people on the canoe had set out for a six-kilometre ride from New Denver to Rosebery. The canoe was approximately 150 metres from shore and conditions were good and the water calm. Sgt. Little said none of the people were wearing life jackets. He said police haven't found any indication the group was drinking.

Sgt. Little said there did not appear to be any damage to the canoe, such as a hole.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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