A man who was swept over a waterfall in Golden Ears Provincial Park on Sunday was in a group of three who were cliff jumping into a pool above Gold Creek Falls, according to witnesses.
A 24-year-old Langley man remains missing, and the search has been called off until river conditions change.
Jordan Stooshnov of Port Coquitlam was visiting the popular hiking area with his wife and child, and watched the young men take off their shirts. Two men got onto rocks above a calm, emerald pool, and one waited below with a towel.
“I said, ‘This doesn’t look like a smart idea at all.’”
Stooshnov said the victim was able to jump into a calm pool, but he was surrounded by white water.
“It was a safe area, but the problem is there was no way to get out of the dead spot of water,” said Stooshnov. It was a trap, and the water was close to freezing.
Stooshnov said the man knew he was in danger. The friend at the bottom was trying to extend a towel for him to grab onto. He couldn’t reach it.
The victim screamed: “swim out.”
When the victim tried to swim toward the towel, the current took him, and “launched him off the top of the falls.”
Stooshnov said it was terrifying to watch.
He could see the man disappear into the rapids, and only caught a glimpse of him once he went over the falls.
“He got sucked under, and just disappeared,” said Stooshnov. “It was hard to see. Hard to take in.
“Your life can end in a split second.”
Maple Ridge firefighters and search and rescue crews were called at 4:20 p.m., and called off their search at dark.
Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue spokesman Rick Laing said they returned on Monday and determined the river is too dangerous for a RCMP dive team to search the falls area.
“We need the water level to change,” said Laing. “The length of Gold Creek was covered thoroughly yesterday.”
“There’s a lot of water going through there. It’s typical of this time of year.”
He said there may be a possibility to search the area under the falls with a remote-operated vehicle, once the water level goes down.
Signs leading to the pool area, where hikers stand on rocks and admire a view of the falls, warn that the current is dangerous.
However, Stooshnov said the public should be restricted to a fenced area at the bottom of the falls.
“You shouldn’t be allowed past that point, at all.”
He added that a well-groomed trail invites the public to continue to the area above the falls, where, if there was no path, he would not have gone.
“A lot of people are going up there with kids,” he said.
Laing said accidents in the area are an annual occurrence, and there have been deaths. He said B.C. Parks has tried to limit public access to the area.
“Over the years, Parks has continually put up fences there, and the public tears them down,” said Laing. “Over the years, we’ve had a number of deaths by people going over the falls.”
The current is powerful at this time of year, with the spring runoff, and the falls are at a high volume of water. Laing said one can’t truly appreciate the power of the falls until near it.
“Stay away from the water’s edge. Respect the force of the water,” warned Laing.
He added that the water is near freezing at this time of year, and a person entering it is fighting the cold as well as the current.
“You really don’t have a chance.”
The falls are a popular destination for hikers, who trek the Lower Falls Trail that runs along Gold Creek.
In 2014, a 23-year-old Surrey woman drowned after falling into a fast-moving creek near the Upper Burke Falls and plunged several metres into the rushing water below.
At the time, it was the fifth death in Golden Ears Provincial Park in the past four years.
The year before, two men drowned after being sucked under by currents while swimming in the same area.