The presumed drowning of a soccer player at McArthur Island over the BC Day long weekend has prompted donations from the soccer community and questions about whether increased safety measures are needed along the riverbank.
Dr. Michael Mthandazo entered the river for a swim with his son during a recreational soccer tournament in Kamloops on July 30, according to an online fundraiser at gofundme.com.
While cooling off in the water off McArthur Island, the current of the river picked up speed and, while Mthandazo was able to help his son get out of the water, the doctor was unable to do so himself and was swept away.
“Dr. Mthandazo was the sole income earner and does not have any extended family locally, so his wife, Julia, and their two sons (ages 11 and eight months) will need a lot of support from the community,” the fundraiser, organized by Noha Fossen, stated.
The fundraising page was started with the blessing of Mthandazo’s wife to alleviate some of the financial burden ahead for the family.
Mthandazo moved to Vernon in January 2021, where he worked as a family physician.
He was playing on a Fraser Valley team in the Kamloops Invitational Soccer Tournament.
Kamloops RCMP Cpl. Crystal Evelyn said the body of Mthandazo had not been located as of Tuesday afternoon.
City of Kamloops CAO David Trawin said in a statement the city is exploring whether action could be taken, including increased signage.
He said the city is saddened to hear of the incident and expressed sympathy on behalf of the municipality. He added the tragedy serves as an important reminder to residents and visitors that the rivers can be unpredictable and dangerous.
Trawin said the rivers remain unseasonably high and fast flowing for this time of year. Spring freshet was delayed due to a cool spring, which has caused river levels to remain high for an extended period into summer months.
Coun. Bill Sarai is a Brocklehurst resident. He said when the water is at its low point, it is possible to walk along the riverbanks and from McArthur Island to Rabbit Island.
Sarai said the area where Mthandazo was swept away is not a popular swimming spot, but added he could see why people would have wanted to swim while playing soccer during hot weather.
The temperatures on the BC Day long weekend tipped toward 40 C.
Sarai said the area in question drops off four or five feet into the water and, once it drops off, the undercurrent is strong. He said someone from out of town would not necessarily know the river is much higher than it normally is at that time of year.
Sarai said he does not know all of the circumstances surrounding the tragic incident, but noted he would be open to changes, as necessary.
“I think it’s unfair to speculate if we could have done more,” Sarai said.
“I don’t know. If there is something — absolutely certain we as council and me, living in Brock — if there is something we could have done to prevent this, by all means, I’m all over it.”
The area from where Mthandazo disappeared remained taped off at McArthur Island late last week. It is across from field No. 7.
Ivy Joseph and Gerard Wilmot walk in the area on a regular basis.
Multiple makeshift paths from the Rivers Trail jut down to the water. Joseph pointed to locations east near the boat launch and west near a creek mouth as safer swimming locations.
Wilmot said he would not let a child near the edge of the riverbank because, if they were to slip into the water, there would be no way to get them back. He said the undercurrent is dangerous, noting the river contains hidden debris.
“It’s not an area we’d let grandkids anywhere near,” Wilmot said.
The couple suggested increased signage warning people not to swim in the area, fencing and/or flotation devices nearby to improve river safety.
Although signs prohibiting swimming can be found near the McArthur Island boat launch and slough, no signs are posted along the Rivers Trail in the area in which the presumed drowning occurred.
Kamloops Invitational Soccer Tournament director Rob Piva said tournament organizers and players were “devastated” by the incident.
Piva said news of the incident travelled fast around the 42-team soccer tournament, noting 90 per cent of the squads that won cash donated it to the family of Mthandazo. It equated to about $2,500.
“And then I’ve got emails coming in from other guys that want to send money to them,” Piva said.
The online fundraiser can be found at gofundme.com by searching “Dr. Mthandazo’s family.”