Three students missing after canoe accident

James
James McLeod
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Young men pulled over Muskrat Falls

Hope was starting to fade Wednesday afternoon for three young men who lost control of their canoe and went over Muskrat Falls in Labrador.

RCMP Sgt. Guy Caines said searchers spent the day scouring the riverbanks, but have only been able to locate "a small piece" of the canoe.

Above, searchers patrol the waters downstream of Muskrat Falls in Labrador looking for any sign of three young men whose canoe was swept over the falls Tuesday. Below, a helicopter hovers over Muskrat Falls in Labrador as the search continued Wednesday fo

Hope was starting to fade Wednesday afternoon for three young men who lost control of their canoe and went over Muskrat Falls in Labrador.

RCMP Sgt. Guy Caines said searchers spent the day scouring the riverbanks, but have only been able to locate "a small piece" of the canoe.

"You can imagine what's going through the community," Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Leo Abbass said.

"A lot of young people are totally devastated by this."

The three men, aged 18 and 19, were canoeing above the falls Tuesday around 6:30 p.m. when the accident happened, according to a witness on the riverbank.

"It appears they may have jumped from the boat before the boat got to the falls itself," Caines said.

"The witness is advising that they abandoned the boat before it got to the falls there, and three males were swept over the falls."

The water levels are high due to heavy rainfall in the past few weeks, and there is river ice jammed in some areas at the base of the waterfall.

Muskrat Falls is known to many people as one of the two locations where Nalcor Energy wants to put a hydroelectric dam as part of the Lower Churchill project.

"The falls itself is actually two falls, and they're approximately a couple of hundred metres apart," Caines said.

"They're approximately 10 or 15 metres in height, but it's the amount of water itself that's coming over there that makes this dangerous, very dangerous."

All three men are students at the College of the North Atlantic (CNA) in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

One was born in the town, while the other two are from Cartwright and Charlottetown in Labrador.

"People are hoping for the best and praying for a miracle, and the whole town is in a state of shock and sadness, basically," said Rosetta Holwell, mayor of Cartwright. "The school is open for children for counselling, and they're basically taking advantage of that and trying to cope as best they can."

At the CNA campus, Abbass said there was a gathering of students outside after word of the accident spread. CNA administrator Paul Motty said they are holding classes as normal, because the students have only been declared missing and no remains have been found.

"Everyone is sort of working today holding their breath," Motty said."We just leave it up to individuals on a day like today, because different people will wait with families for word, or want to be with friends in class, or whatever the case may be."

Motty said the college will respond depending on whether the three young men are declared deceased.

"We're waiting for confirmation one way or the other, but we do have access to grief counsellors from Stephenville campus if we deem it necessary," he said.

Charlottetown Mayor Charmaine Powell, a teacher at William Gillett Academy, said it was a difficult day for everyone at the K-12 school Wednesday.

"I think the whole community is in a state of shock and grieving," she said. "In such a small community, everyone is everyone's friends and relatives."

Powell said the school's tragedy emergency response was initiated, with guidance counsellors and other counsellors from the region's health authority and community youth network available to the students to help them deal with the crisis.

The witness on the riverbank said none of the three men were wearing life jackets.

Caines said emergency workers will continue to search, assisted by boats and a helicopter. However, he said that the high current and ice around the base of the falls is hampering efforts.

jmcleodthetelegram.com

Organizations: CNA, RCMP, William Gillett Academy

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Labrador, Happy Valley Goose Bay Cartwright Charlottetown

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