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One dead on North Van's Capilano River after 'large volume of water' released

Metro Vancouver and coroner investigating after large volume of water released from spillway gate during maintenance. Several people were swept into the river. One person is dead.

Police and the coroner have confirmed the death of a man who was swept into the Capilano River this afternoon.

The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating.

The death on the Capilano was reported after at least five people were swept into the river, following a sudden release of water from the Cleveland Dam, during maintenance work on the spillway gate. Four of those people were rescued or managed to make it to shore.

But the fifth person was pulled from the water in medical distress, said North Vancouver RCMP spokesman Sgt. Peter DeVries. That man has since died.

Police have not yet released the name of the man who died.

A number of anglers had been fishing along the shoreline at the time the water was released, at about 1:45 p.m..

District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue crews performed rope rescues to pull three people to safety earlier Thursday afternoon.

In at least one case, witnesses saw two people – a man and woman – get swept downstream.

In that case the pair managed to make it to the safety of a small island in the river and were pulled to safety by a rope rescue team.

Other people who were at the Capilano River described how a wall of water suddenly thundered down the river without warning.

Keifer Baker was fishing on the river near the bridge with two family members when he heard a noise that sounded like thunder.

“We just heard rumbling. It sounded like thunder,” he said.

“Suddenly white water was mixed with what looked like chocolate milk coming down the river. It looked like half a football field of water coming down the river,” he said.

Baker said his group had less than a minute to grab their fishing gear and run up the bank to safety, leaving their fish behind.

“It all happened so quick,” he said.

Baker, a member of the Squamish Nation, said he’s been coming to the river since he was six and has never seen anything like that.

A spokesman for Metro Vancouver, which operates the Cleveland Dam, confirmed there was an unintended release of a large volume water Thursday afternoon.

“Today the spillway gate at the Cleveland Dam released a large volume of water into the Capilano River, while we were doing maintenance,” said Jerry Dobrovolny.

Dobrovolny said he didn't have any details on why or how the release of water happened.

Metro Vancouver's stream flow tracker showed the Capilano River suddenly rising from a level of below one metre to over four metres in the Cable Pool at that point on Thursday afternoon, with the volume of water flowing through the river at the Cable Pool suddenly rising exponentially, before dropping again.

Capilano stream flow
This graph from Metro Vancouver shows the level of the Capilano River and the volume of water flowing through it suddenly rising at the time the water was released from the spillway gate. image Metro Vancouver

Dobrovolny said Metro Vancouver is now doing a full investigation into what happened, which will include interviewing all staff.

Dobrovolny said there was no issue or problem with the dam itself. He added the problem with the spillway gate has now been resolved.

Members of North Shore Rescue were called out to assist firefighters late this afternoon to search to see if anyone else had been swept into the river and was unaccounted for.

Team members flew over the river in a helicopter and a swift water kayak team also did a sweep of the Capilano, said team leader Mike Danks.

Speaking to the media Thursday evening, DeVries said police had not yet been able to notify the family of the person who died in the river.

"That's an additional concern for us and and we know that this will be a really difficult time for this person's family and friends and loved ones, and our hearts really do go out to them," he said.

It isn't the first time tragedy has struck on the river.

A year ago a man in his 30s died after his fishing line snagged and he was swept into the Capilano.

In January 2018, a kayaker also died after losing control in high water levels.