Stories & Features

BC Hydro crew helps rescue deer from icy Okanagan Lake

'You can't just leave the poor animal to suffer and perish'

A young deer that fell through ice into Okanagan Lake near Vernon on Wednesday was rescued by a handful of men who came together on land and water to play the collective hero.

It all started with a glance out of the window of a BC Hydro truck travelling on Westside Road about 15 minutes from the north end of the lake.

"We just happened to look off to the side, and my partner Rob Asplin saw the head of a deer sticking out of the water," recalled Ken Finlayson, a security and investigations advisor with BC Hydro who was on a job with Asplin, a contractor with Western Pacific Enterprises. "We went back and had a look through the binoculars – obviously it was having a lot of difficulty in the water.

"We had just passed a barge or dredge with a couple guys on it a few minutes earlier. So we drove back and made our way through the snow to the water's edge and started waving at them. They agreed to help, and two of them took off right away in a boat, and the other came in a separate boat behind them shortly after."

Young deer wrapped in blankets
A young deer that had fallen through the ice of Okanagan Lake near Vernon is wrapped in BC Hydro blankets following a rescue involving BC Hydro, Okanagan Pile Driving and Mike V's Automotive earlier this week.

One boat does search & rescue, the other's an ice-breaker

All the men on the water, a combination of workers from Okanagan Pile Driving and Mike V's Automotive, plus the two boats, played major roles in the rescue. And later on, the BC Hydro crew jumped back into the fray.

The first of the two boats, an aluminum V-hull, arrived to scoop the deer out of the water and into the boat in water about 100 metres from the shore.The second boat, a heavier pontoon barge, then carved a channel through the ice to the shore. That ice had separated the deer from safety after she apparently fell through the ice.

The men at first tried to put the deer into the shallow water with hope she could make it to shore alone. But the deer was too weak, so one of the men, Kevin Morris, jumped off the boat and hauled the stricken deer to shore.

Even after we got her to shore, we were worried that she wasn't going to make it.

"She was so cold," recalled Chris Burton of Okanagan Pile Driving. "Even after we got her to shore, we were worried that she wasn’t going to make it."

That's where the BC Hydro crew returned to the rescue effort. Finlayson and Asplin grabbed some old BC Hydro blankets from the truck, made their way to the shore and wrapped the deer to try to warm it up.

"We talked about how we could stay and watch the thing covered up in blankets, but it was obviously stressed that we were there," says Finlayson. "So we placed it in bush, with some branches and a blanket underneath, and a blanket on top, and went about our business."

Good news comes later: the deer's just fine

Finlayson and Asplin went back to work placing temporary meters on feeder power lines as part of a power balancing project for BC Hydro. They didn't get the good news that the deer had recovered until they saw a video online the next morning. The video was taken after the pile driving crew motored back near the shore to discover the deer up on all fours, moving around.

"She went up the bank, across the road and up the hillside," said Burton. "The whole thing was pretty cool. Everyone just jumped in and got 'er done."

Burton had a couple theories for how the young deer wound up on the ice and in the water. One was that it was just getting a drink. But some possible coyote tracks nearby suggest she may have been chased.

The whole thing was pretty cool. Everyone just jumped in and got 'er done.

BC Hydro's Finlayson was overjoyed at seeing the video of the recovered deer, and said the whole operation was just a great example of timely cooperation among a diverse group of workers. And never did he have a second thought about rescuing the deer.

"I like deer… I like wildlife," said Finlayson. "You can't just leave the poor animal to suffer and perish if you have the capability to help out. There's no way we were going to leave it without trying to get hold of these guys on the barge."

Boat takes deer to shore
After a pontoon barge broke through the ice to form a channel to the shore, workers from Okanagan Pile Driving and Mike V's Automotive – who had plucked the young deer from the water of Okanagan Lake moments earlier – made their way to the shore with the deer in the back of the boat. (Photo courtesy Okanagan Pile Driving)