Two children who died after their family’s off-road vehicle crashed into a lake near Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday have been identified as a nine-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy.
RCMP said Monday the children were from nearby Abbotsford. They had been off-roading with three other members of their family at Foley Lake when the crash happened early in the afternoon.
“What started off as a fun day of recreation turned into a horrible tragedy. Every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Chilliwack RCMP Sgt. Krista Vrolyk.
Mounties said the family had been driving down the Foley Creek Forest Service Road when the vehicle lurched off the road, rolled down a steep embankment and plunged into the lake.
Two adults and a child escaped. Divers with the RCMP recovered the bodies of the other two children late Sunday.
No indication of criminality: RCMP
A statement from RCMP on Sunday said the family had been riding in what’s known as a side-by-side off-road vehicle.
The vehicles are popular among families as an alternative to typical all-terrain vehicles, with up to six bucket seats, seatbelts, a steering wheel and a roll bar. ATVs only fit one or two people at a time in open saddles.
Under the B.C. Off Road Vehicle Act, vehicles like side-by-sides must be licensed and helmets are mandatory.
Vrolyk said there is “no indication of any criminality” in relation to the crash on Sunday. She said all five members of the family wore seatbelts and helmets.
Dan McAuliffe with Chilliwack Search and Rescue said about 18 members of his crew attended the scene and found the survivors already on shore.
“It’s an absolute tragedy. Our heart goes out to [the family],” McAuliffe said. “It was hard to see them and hard to think about what they’re going to go through.”
McAuliffe said that section of the service road is tilted. He said rescuers found pieces of the vehicle on the slope and it was “amazing” anyone survived at all.
The weather was rapidly changing that day, he said. When his crew was called out, it was pouring rain but when they arrived on the lake, it was sunny.
If there’s any immediate takeaway from the accident, he said, it is to be “ultra cautious” with off-road vehicles.
“I’m sure one minute they’re really happy and the next minute their lives are changed forever.”
‘Heroic’ bystanders dived in to help
Mounties were called just before 1 p.m. PT Sunday.
The area, about 40 kilometres east of Chilliwack, is well used by off-roaders and campers. Vrolyk said bystanders familiar with the terrain helped direct first responders to the crash site “as quickly as possible.”
Vrolyk estimated the vehicle fell around 50 metres before plunging into a part of the lake that’s about four metres deep.
She said people who were on the lake at the time took “heroic” actions to try to save the trapped children.
“There was one man in a pontoon boat who rushed over to the site where the vehicle had gone in the water. He actually ended up diving into the water in an effort to save the family. There were other people on scene that did similar things,” the officer said.
McAuliffe praised another woman he said ran down the slope, and dived into the water repeatedly for the two children.
The woman dived deep enough to touch the vehicle but couldn’t get at them.
“She’s pretty upset by it,” McAuliffe said. “When you can try and help somebody and you can’t, especially young kids like that, it’s going to be traumatic for her for a long time.”
The RCMP Dive Team, Chilliwack Search and Rescue, Chilliwack River Valley Fire Department and B.C. Ambulance Service all responded to the scene. The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating.
“There’s just too many to name, but a lot of first responders had a really tough day yesterday,” said Vrolyk.
The officer said the vehicle will be removed from Foley Lake on Monday.