Travis Van Hill’s family waited more than a week for the wreckage of his boat to be pulled from the lake. And it has finally been accomplished.
The commercial fishing boat captain went down with his vessel Monday, July 24 during a storm on Okanagan Lake.
His body has yet to be located or resurface (as of press time). His boat was pulled from the water Tuesday afternoon, eight days since the incident.
Vernon Search and Rescue confirms they are searching for Van Hill.
Red tape and paperwork previously prevented anyone from retrieving him or his boat, according to Travis’ family.
“His body will be decomposed and won’t look like my handsome husband,” wife Kim Van Hill said.
“A dive team from Vancouver, the dive lead, said he’s never been in this type of rescue and he’s been doing it for 16 years,” she said of the process which has taken too long to recover Travis’ body.
“Search and Rescue said this should have been done (Tuesday, July 25).”
David Young, owner of Anchors Aweigh Marine Services in Vernon, is a family friend of the missing boat captain. He says the wait for answers and the slow-moving investigation is “ridiculous.”
Young got a call at 2 a.m. Tuesday about the capsized boat, and was on the water alongside the RCMP and Vernon Search and Rescue by 3 a.m.
There was another boat on the water at the same time Van Hill’s boat capsized. Young said he was told by the other boat captain that Van Hill put out a mayday distress signal and that his last words over the radio were “I’m going down.”
It wasn’t until Monday, July 31, that recovery work finally began.
“First and foremost, we can only imagine how difficult this situation must be for the family and friends of the missing captain,” said Yesenia Dhott, WorkSafe media relations officer.
Air bags were deployed and a crane was at the scene as the boat has been pulled upright. It was towed from the lake at Paddlewheel Park shortly after 4 p.m. Aug. 1.
A GoFundMe has also been started in memory of Travis.
“Efforts for search, rescue, and recovery have been slow and hindered by WorkSafe BC causing frustration for family and friends,” said son Lucas Pool, who started the fundraiser. “He passed doing what he loved, and was known all around the community as a glowing soul always there to help anybody in need, always putting others before himself.”
Travis is survived by his wife and four children.
A memorial is also planned to be set up at Paddlewheel Park.
Boats such as the one Van Hill was captaining are designed to remove Mysis shrimp from Okanagan Lake. According to the Okanagan Basin Water Board, Mysis shrimp were introduced to Okanagan Lake in the 1960s as a way to provide food for Kokanee salmon. However, the introduction of the species ended up interrupting the food chain as the Mysis shrimp began competing for food with the Kokanee salmon fry.
Despite the tragedy, the Van Hill family has seen tremendous support from the community, including a local dealership.
Kim had Travis’ truck towed to Dodge as the key is with her husband in the lake.
“Vernon Dodge re-keyed and programmed Travis’ truck and fixed the fuel pump and gifted the charge,” Kim said, grateful for the generosity.
The body of 26-year old Eli Buruca has not been recovered from Kalamalka Lake, where he was kayaking during the same July 24 storm. Vernon Search and Rescue is also continuing to search for him.