‘It’s a hard thing to deal with’

Family puts pressure on to continue search for missing man

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on September 8, 2011
Christopher Hannaford, a carpenter, is shown working on a doghouse. The Goulds native went missing on Labour Day weekend in B.C. — Submitted photo

As Brian Hannaford watches video of his youngest son, Christopher, happily gathering wood on the shore of Harrison Lake, B.C., his eyes tear up and his voice shakes.

“That’s it — the last I’ll see of him,” he said Wednesday sitting across from his other son, Jonathan, in their Goulds home.

“He looks alright there. … Miracles do happen. But I don’t think so. I hope for him to be alive, but I really think he is gone. It’s a hard thing to deal with, I guarantee you.”

Christopher, 28, a carpenter in Surrey, B.C., went to Harrison Lake on Labour Day weekend to camp and fish with two buddies, his uncle Keith Barnes and Barnes’ girlfriend.

Christopher vanished sometime after 11:30 p.m. Saturday and is feared drowned in the undertow of the lake and the namesake river that comes from it and feeds into the Fraser River several kilometres away.

“We have quite a few deaths a year,” said Agassiz RCMP Const. Josh Roda.

While Brian was upset to learn search and rescue had called off a search Sunday evening, Roda said RCMP continued its search each day.

Wednesday, search and rescue was out again with the RCMP dive team working on the river and lake with sonar equipment.

As of press time, the dive team was still out. A helicopter had flown the length of the river, but no evidence of Christopher has turned up.

“Right now there’s not a lot of evidence for anything. He wandered away from his friends in the middle of the night,” Roda said.

Search and Rescue  has indicated to the RCMP that if he went in the water, there isn’t much hope, no matter how muscular and strong a swimmer Christopher was.

Plus, Roda said there was about a 12-hour window between when Christopher was last seen and when he was reported missing the next morning.

“It doesn’t even matter how good a swimmer you are, unless you are wearing a life-jacket,” Roda said.

Brian Hannaford was upset that search and rescue gave up the first day and credits his son Jonathan, with putting pressure on the search by emailing officials and media.

“It’s unbelievable — I never heard the likes of it. You do stuff here and search and rescue can’t wait to get out the next morning and search again,” Brian said.

But Roda said there was an air, ground and land search that first day, including police dogs and the RCMP continued on after search and rescue declared it explored all possible areas.

Brian described his son as an avid outdoorsman and Labour Day was meant to be a fun weekend with camping and fishing.

There was no reason, he said, that Christopher would want to disappear on his own, a sentiment echoed by Jonathan and Keith Barnes.

By all accounts, he was happy, loved his job and was proud of a new apartment with a view and swimming pool. He moved out to B.C. about five years ago and Barnes looked out for him.

Brian said Christopher has a good heart, but wasn’t one to take bullshit.

“He had no trouble getting work up there. He was as good as three hands, his bosses told him,” Brian said, adding proudly that his son came home last summer and built a fish pond, shed and doghouse for him. They also went camping together.

Brian usually makes a trip to B.C. each year to see his son on May 24th weekend and stays a month. He’d even been to Harrison Lake. This year he planned to go in the fall and take in a hockey game with Christopher, whom he kept in close phone contact with.

“That won’t be happening now,” Brian said, choking back tears. He said he’s glad when they talked a week before the tragedy, he told his son he loved him.

“It’s terrible pain. You don’t expect this stuff. When you lose a child, it’s unbelieveable.”

Jonathan, reaching for an explanation, wants police to explore all angles. He said it would be unusual for his brother to leave his tent without his cigarettes. On his Facebook page and “Missing Christopher Hannaford) 2011 the Search Continues,” Jonathan thanked friends and family for their support and said he was heading to B.C. to help the search.

Compounding Jonathan’s anguish is that his and Christopher’s mother is in hospital in B.C.  fighting a virus for her life.

The number of days since his disappearance is making it harder for the family to grasp onto hope Christopher may be in the woods, disoriented.

While the area where his tent was pitched was calm, there was a cliff and rougher water nearby.

“That’s all that runs through your mind what he was doing and how he suffered,” Brian said.

“I’ve been told now about people when they do drown it’s peaceful. Who comes back and tells you that right?”

When he answered the phone call Sunday and heard his former brother-in-law’s voice, Brian knew right away something was wrong.

Barnes said Wednesday he and his girlfriend were camping on an island about 200 yards away from Christopher, who was in a separate tent from his friends.

“They were drinking heavily that day. They never ate,” he said, adding his nephew turned in near midnight.

The next day, he arrived by boat and saw Christopher was missing. His shoes were still in the tent.

“It’s possible he could have tried to make it to that island where we were,” Barnes said.

“The river is confusing. It looks calm, but it’s not. It’s running really heavy. If he tried to swim to the island, he wouldn’t have made it. Drinking, he would definitely not make it. Even the best swimmer couldn’t make it across.”

Barnes also said the RCMP has been supportive throughout the ordeal.

“A body could be washed 30 miles and well into the ocean,” Barnes said of the Fraser and why officials can give up on a search.

“People never, ever get found in that river.”

While he said where the group was gathered is a popular camping area and the spot his nephew’s tent was set up at is safe, he could have stumbled over the rocks to rougher water.

Barnes said no one heard anything and pet dogs on the site didn’t stir.

“He just vanished,” Barnes said.

“I don’t know what to do right now. I can only take it one step at a time. I’ll never be satisfied unless I see a body.”