Sunshine Coast – The driver of a vehicle that plunged off a hairpin turn of the Sunshine Coast Highway – and then over a waterfall – is alive and sharing her tale, thanks to a passerby and the combined efforts of Sunshine Coast emergency service providers. The rescue was amazing, but even more incredible was the story of survival the driver lived to tell.
On November 23, Surrey resident Carolynne (last name omitted) was visiting the Sunshine Coast from Surrey on business. Around 9:45 am she left Madeira Park, and entered the hairpin corner in the 12000 block of the highway. Without warning, her SUV fishtailed and plunged 40 feet off of the roadway, over a waterfall and into the rushing creek below.
“Before I knew it, I was going over that cliff, and I thought I was going to die,” said Carolynne.
The SUV landed on its side in the middle of the swollen creek, with the driver’s side of the vehicle under the water level. The rear windows helped to reduce the amount of water that entered the vehicle, however Carolynne still found herself immersed up to her neck in the frigid water.
After struggling, Carolynne was able to release her seatbelt and climb out of her seat, onto the exterior passenger-side, only to be soaked by water rushing over top of the vehicle.
“I could see the cars [driving on the highway] in the distance, but no one could see me.”
At that point her options looked grim. If she stayed on her vehicle, she risked hypothermia from the cold water – as well as the possibility that the vehicle could be pushed further downstream over another waterfall. If she tried to swim to either side of the creek, she would almost certainly be swept over the next waterfall.
All of my ideas led to a place I didn’t want to end up…I kept saying to myself ‘I was so close.’
Knowing susceptibility to hypothermia increases greatly when a person is in water, Carolynne found a corner inside her vehicle where she could get herself partially out of the water to try to preserve her body heat. Doing so may have helped save her life.
Meanwhile, the person who initiated Carolynne’s rescue came along. Apparently a man visiting the Sunshine Coast was recommended to stop to look at the stunning waterfalls in the area. He pulled over, walked across the road and was shocked to see a vehicle lying on its side in the water below.
BC Ambulance Service and the Pender Harbour Volunteer Fire Department were the first to respond and worked quickly to make sure the vehicle did not get pushed farther towards the next waterfall. Sunshine Coast RCMP, members of Sunshine Coast Search and Rescue, and the Sechelt Volunteer Fire Department also took part in rescue efforts, with the Sechelt Fire Department using their ladder truck to lower one of their members down to the vehicle.
“All Sechelt Fire Department members train annually in rope rescue operations as part of our extensive training program, and many of our members are certified in [high angle] rope rescue operations and Swift Water Awareness. I am extremely proud of our members that worked diligently under such pressure and harsh conditions,” said Dwight Davison, Assistant Chief of the Sechelt Fire Department. “Our communities should be very proud of the volunteer fire services on the Sunshine Coast. Acknowledgment should also be given to the Sunshine Coast RCMP, and BCAS (BC Ambulance Service) personnel who assisted in several aspects of the successful rescue.”
Pender Harbour Volunteer Fire Department Chief Don Murray also added that this was an all-encompassing team effort, and we could not have accomplished what we did without the contributions of everyone there.
Pender Harbour Deputy Chief Bill Gilkes and Sechelt firefighter Tyrel Brackett made it down onto the SUV to help extract Carolynne. Gilkes scurried down an embankment with a cable around him, while Brackett was lowered in a harness from the ladder truck.
After being huddled for 3.5 hours, Carolynne was pulled to safety and attended to by paramedics, before being taken to a waiting air ambulance. Carolynne spent nearly a week in hospital being treated for hypothermia, a broken nose, a concussion and soft tissue damage, but has now been released. She is incredibly grateful for everyone’s contribution to the rescue.
“This was a miraculous rescue,” said Cst Harrison Mohr with Sunshine Coast RCMP. “Everyone – including Carolynne – was committed to ensuring a successful outcome. Failure was not an option.”
The SUV remains in the creek, as the rushing water makes it too dangerous for anyone to climb back onto the vehicle to attach a cable for removal. Crews will continue to monitor the situation and will make arrangements for removal when it is safe enough to do so.
File # 2016-7738
Sunshine Coast RCMP