B.C. inquest hears evidence in the drowning of search-rescue official

NELSON, B.C. – The drowning of a volunteer search-and-rescue official in British Columbia’s Kootenay region last year can be blamed on poor planning and inadequate equipment, a coroner’s inquest has heard.

Testimony examining the June 2011 death of 29-year-old Sheilah Lorraine Sweatman began Monday in Nelson, B.C.

Sweatman, a member of a swift-water, search-and-rescue team, drowned in the Goat River south of Creston, B.C., while trying to recover a submerged car and determine if there was anybody inside.

A WorkSafeBC report has already found Sweatman got caught up in a steel cable and was dragged under the water to her death.

“The rescue plan was not adequate in the Sheilah Sweatman accident,” WorkSafeBC investigator Nigel Corduff told the inquiry.

Corduff said a pre-planning report should have been used before the rescue team began the recovery operation, and the document would have suggested the steel cable would not be the best method for a successful recovery.

The inquest also heard there was no way of saving Sweatman, a native of Winnipeg, Man., because there was no equipment available in the boat to cut the cable.

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In fact, the inquest heard that a nylon rope was used to successfully remove the vehicle from the river one day after Sweatman’s death.

During the inquest’s morning session, Sweatman’s mother, Terri Sweatman, gave a tearful, emotional statement, while a portrait of her daughter was easily visible near the jury box.

She described Sheilah as the fourth of five Sweatman children, a “fierce but tender daughter,” who was a “strong-willed, dedicated” member of the local search-and-rescue team.

She said her daughter had “tremendous courage to face any physical or moral challenge.”

Testimony is scheduled through Thursday, with Friday set aside for jury deliberations.

Remaining witnesses include several search-and-rescue members, RCMP officers, a pathologist and a toxicologist along with Sheila’s colleague on the raft and the tow-truck driver.

Emergency management personnel and Sheilah’s father, Wynn, are also expected to testify. (The Nelson Daily)