Man was learning how to swim: witnesses
Police have located the body of a 25-year-old man who went missing after failing to resurface when swimming in the Gatineau River with a group of friends under the Wakefield covered bridge the morning of July 25.
Following hours of searching, the MRC des Collines Police confirmed that the victim's body was found around 9:45 p.m., that day after the arrival of divers from the Sûreté du Québec. The man’s body was discovered not far from where he had gone missing, according to a release from MRC Police.
According to the parents of one of the missing man’s friends – who spoke with The Low Down but did not wish to be named – the 25-year-old was an international student from Bangladesh in his third year of studying computer science at the University of Ottawa and did not know how to swim.
The parents said the victim’s father called them in tears after being contacted by police. The 25-year-old had taken a video at the bridge earlier that day and sent it to his father - the friend’s parents were able to locate the group after seeing the video themselves.
Shane Mendonsa, a tourist from Ottawa who was also at the bridge swim area that day, said he had been aware of the group of friends that morning as they were enjoying the river nearby his own group of friends, and recalled hearing the others mention that they were helping their friend learn to swim.
“The last thing I remember was that they were under the bridge,” Mendonsa said, adding that he hadn’t seen any of the four friends jump from the bridge into the river, nor anyone else that day. “The next thing we know, he had disappeared and they were looking for him.”
Mendonsa said that the first direct contact he had with the group was when they asked to borrow their goggles. When they explained that they needed them to search for their missing friend, it wasn’t long until others at the busy summer hang-out jumped into action.
“People were using canoes and kayaks to search up and down both sides of the river,” Mendonsa explained. “We were searching for at least an hour, but he didn't surface, and we couldn't find him.”
Mendonsa added that the first police officer on the scene almost immediately jumped into the river to join the search.
MRC des Collines Police said the search began around 1 p.m., with help from borrowed snorkels and masks and local pontoon and fire services boats. Police also said that divers with the Sûreté du Québec were called to aid in the search, but they had still not arrived as of 6 p.m.
This is the second drowning at the covered bridge since 2015 when a 23-year-old Algonquin College student from Zimbabwe drowned after being swept away by the current. A coroner's report found that the 23-year-old had more than four times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood.
MRC des Collines Police had not released the name of the 25-year-old on July 25 and would not comment on the circumstances surrounding what may have contributed to the man's death.
Editor's note: The original story has been updated with corrected information.