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RCMP divers search Manitoba river after damaged boat found in hunt for B.C. fugitives

Aug 04, 2019 04:13PM ● By Editor
Members of the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team prepare to explore a section of the Nelson River on Sunday after a damaged aluminum boat was discovered. Photo: Angela Johnston/CBC

By Ian Froese · CBC News · August 4, 2019 

Underwater divers have been deployed to a northern Manitoba river where a damaged aluminum boat may provide some clue to the whereabouts of two suspects wanted in connection to three B.C. homicides.

Searchers on a helicopter spotted the boat on the shore of the Nelson River on Friday afternoon, RCMP said on Sunday.

Based on the discovery, five members of the Underwater Recovery Team will "conduct a thorough underwater search of significant areas of interest today," the RCMP said in a news release.

The decision to enlist underwater divers comes just days after the Mounties began winding down their search for Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, in the bush and swamp around Gillam, Man., where the last confirmed sighting occurred on July 22.

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This is the damaged aluminum boat found by  officers on the shores of the Nelson River during a helicopter search on friday afternoon.  Photo: RCMP

The trail for the suspects went cold because of a lack of new leads, but police insisted last week they weren't giving up.

The RCMP have combed the area for 13 days.

After noon on Sunday, the divers set off from a clearing in the forested terrain bordering the Nelson River, hauling scuba tanks and settling into a boat, before they departed on a balmy afternoon.

Five underwater divers have been deployed to the Nelson River. The involvement of the Underwater Recovery Team is a new component to police search effort in a hunt for B.C. homicide suspects that has lasted 13 days. Photo: Angela Johnston/CBC

The river is hundreds of metres wide and flows rapidly, powering several hydroelectric dams vital to the province.

RCMP said on Saturday night they would not disclose specifics about where their Underwater Recovery Team would be searching.

The two men, childhood friends from Port Alberni, B.C., are charged with second-degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia lecturer Leonard Dyck, and are suspects in the killings of tourist couple Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese.

Gillam, a town of about 1,300, is located about 730 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

The Nelson River flows north from Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay, and Gillam is located near its banks.

Before announcing last Wednesday that police were reducing their presence in the area, searchers were combing a rugged terrain that covered 11,000 square kilometres — about twice the size of P.E.I.

RCMP are searching for clues related to Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky. (RCMP)

At the height of the pursuit, officers used aerial surveillance, drones and police dogs and canvassed every home and abandoned building, but no sightings of the fugitives have been confirmed since a burned-out Toyota RAV4 was found near Sundance Creek, northeast of Gillam, Man, on July 21. It is believed the pair were driving the vehicle.

Police said last week that ground and air searches would continue, but wouldn't be as robust as before. The Mounties said they would return to high probability areas, including some of the paths, cabins and hunting shacks they have already explored.

"In searching for people in vast, remote and rugged locations, it's always a possibility that they're not going to be immediately located," RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said at the time.

A boat carrying members of the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team sets off along the Nelson River on Sunday afternoon as they search 'significant areas of interest.'  Photo: Angela Johnston/CBC

Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said on Sunday that residents are anxious for this countrywide hunt to come to a close with the suspects located.

"We need this to end so people can start to feel safe," he said.

"People in town are talking to me about walking by trailers and seeing that an entranceway … is open and they're afraid to go close to that, because they don't know," Forman said. "I don't want that in our community. I want them to feel secure."

This map shows the search area around Gillam, Man. Image: CBC
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