Two 11-year-olds before they were swept down the Vedder River on Aug. 24, 2021. (Tara Scheirer photo)

Two Chilliwack boys survive terrifying tumble into Vedder River

‘Never underestimate the power of the river,’ says boy, 11, swept down river

A Chilliwack family is pledging to respect the power of the river after they got a taste of it this week.

Shaun McDowell, 11, said he was scraped and bruised after jumping into the Vedder River Tuesday in an effort to save his buddy.

Shaun and friend Darius, 11, had been playing in the shallow water, in a section across from the Vedder River Campground.

They were being watched from shore by Shaun’s mom, and grandmother.

The boys were ankle-deep on the north side of the Vedder, where a large branch sticks out, and everything seemed fine.

Suddenly the water was up to their knees. Then their necks.

Then Darius slipped on a rock.

“I knew he wasn’t that good of a swimmer so I jumped in the water to try to help him,” Shaun said.

The other boy was panicky by the time Shaun reached him and tried to get scramble past him.

“He pushed my head down and I went under the water.”

The current took him downstream again.

“I ended up being trapped under a ledge where some big rocks were,” Shaun said.

He was under water for about 30 seconds. He felt like he had used up all his energy but somehow managed to propel himself to the surface and grab a boulder.

A man in a purple kayak had seen the commotion as the boys went into the water, and paddled closer to where Shaun was. He dragged his kayak up onto the boulders, and went to help the boy.

The kayaker stayed and helped guide the boy to safety, over the treacherous rocks and bushes.

Shaun wears heavy prescription glasses which flew off his face soon after he hit the water. So he could not see the path to safety at all, and was freaked out and shaky after getting out.

“It was like the kayaker dropped out of heaven to help,” said Mona Nowak, Shaun’s grandmother, who was furthest away from the rescue.

The timing was perfect in terms of the kayaker’s arrival, as well as the cyclist couple above the river.

“It was a miracle,” Nowak said. “They turned what could have been a family tragedy into a blessing.”

RELATED: Tubing the Vedder dangerous says SAR

Shaun was not aware of it until later but his mother had sprinted after the boys, lost her balance and had also been swept downstream.

“The water was maybe up to my knees when my footing gave way under me,” said Tara Scheirer, Shaun’s mom.

The current was so strong she couldn’t really breathe when she was in the river.

“I couldn’t have gotten either Darius or myself out at that point,” Scheirer said.

Luckily a couple with a tandem bike above them noticed what was happening.

The man in a orange high-vis vest climbed down the river bank and helped the boy and the mom, who were both spent after battling the current.

All Scheirer could manage to utter was one word: “Help.”

They were both clinging to rocks, as the kayaker was helping Shaun navigate the path to safety from further downstream.

“The kayaker stayed with Shaun, and the couple stayed with Darius until I could reach Shaun,” she said.

It all happened so fast. It might have been a different story without the helpers.

The family didn’t get the names of any of their rescuers, but they very much would like to thank them.

“Thank goodness for people like you,” Nowak said.

If anyone knows the kayaker in the purple kayak who was on the river Tuesday afternoon, or the couple with the tandem bike, thank them for Nowak and Scheirer.

“We just had no idea of the danger,” said Sheirer, now that they’ve had time to think about the harrowing incident. “The water wasn’t even up to their knees.”

They’d been down at the river before and had seen lots of families with kids enjoying the Vedder gravel bars and back channels. But they never went in the water before.

Shaun said he would definitely be extra careful around rivers in the future.

“The current was way stronger than I expected,” he said. “Once I was taken by it, it went really fast.”

Shaun’s takeaway from his ordeal?

“Never underestimate the power of the river.”

RELATED: Stay safe around swift water

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
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City of Chilliwack