Langley water recovery team aids in successful search

Just hours before flying off to Maui for a Hawaiian Christmas, Langley’s Jim and Anna Ward received the call of a lifetime.

It was almost better than winning a lottery, Jim said, noting his inability to wipe the grin off his face almost got him in trouble with customs officials when they were boarding the airplane for their trip on Friday.

“It’s so extremely cool,” said Jim, vice-president for a Langley-based non-profit group called Legacy Water Search and Recovery Society.

The relatively new organization, committed to searching for and safely recovering drowning victims, had received its first call for aid this week, and Friday they were able to report their first success story.

Using innovative technology, in the form of a side-scan sonar system, two members of the team were deployed to Saturna Island to assist RCMP in the location and recovery of 21-year-old Keenan Nicodemus.

The young man was lost when a rowboat he and a friend were using to cross the bay to Mayne Island was overturned in high winds on Dec. 12. The friend was able to swim to shore, but Nicodemus was never seen again.

Search crews spent the next three days combing the waters, to no avail.

Then, Legacy was called in.

Working with RCMP, Legacy president Scott Lebus of Delta and Legacy volunteer Sean Campbell of Langley were able to use borrowed high-tech sonar equipment to survey the waterway that stretches 22 kilometres between Mayne and Saturna.

Back on shore later that same day, they reviewed all the images and Lebus said he was  convinced they’d found the missing man. Providing RCMP divers with detailed GPS markers, the Legacy team lead to the confirmed discovery and ultimate recovery on Friday.

“We’re finally able to have a positive impact,” Lebus told the Langley Advance.

“There’s not much better a Christmas gift we could give to any family, tragedy aside,” Jim added.

As Sgt. Rod Pick, from the outer Gulf Island RCMP, told an Island radio station, these efforts provide a small amount of comfort at a difficult time for the Nicodemus’ family.

“The RCMP extends our gratitude to all those involved in the search, rescue, and recovery operation,” Pick said, specifically crediting Legacy for helping narrow the search.

“It was a feel good moment for all the members of Legacy, said Jim.

“This is exactly what we did all this for… why we created Legacy in the first place,” he added, explaining how the new organization is still struggling to raise the money needed to purchase its own boat, as well as the sonar system and a remote operated vehicle needed for search and recovery.

As attested to on the Legacy website, often victims of drowning are never located and police are unable to resolve the case successfully.

Such was the case for Ward’s family, when Jim’s nephew Brendan Wilson, and his friend Austin Kingsborough, went missing on Nicola Lake in April 2013.

Despite exhaustive efforts of area police and search crews, the boy’s bodies were not found.

That’s when an underwater search specialist from Idaho was called in (there was no one closer with the technology) and with use of the deep water sonar equipment and a remote operated vehicle was able to find and recover both boys, and ultimately bring closure to their family.

It was that experience, and recognizing that this service was not available in B.C., that prompted the many of the boys’ family members and friends to create Legacy.

Legacy was one of the organizations that just received a grant from the 2014 Langley Good Times Cruise-In, and has applied to the province for a B.C. Gaming grant to aid in the purchase of the boat.

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