Officer missing in boating mishap in Yukon

July 16, 2010
Jul 15 2010 MAYO, Yn - Boat crews, aircraft and a dive team from the Yukon and British Columbia descended on a small village in the territory Wednesday to help in a desperate search for a missing rookie RCMP officer.

Jul 15 2010

MAYO, Yn - Boat crews, aircraft and a dive team from the Yukon and British Columbia descended on a small village in the territory Wednesday to help in a desperate search for a missing rookie RCMP officer.

Const. Michael Potvin, 26, was travelling in an aluminum boat on the Stewart River on Tuesday night near the village of Mayo.

"They had taken it upriver," said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Don Rogers. "The boat engine began having problems, at which time they turned around and headed back towards the dock as they should have, and as to what happened when they neared the dock I'm not exactly sure – however, it appears that they were trying to work on the boat when it suddenly capsized," he said.

"One member stayed with the boat while the other attempted to swim toward shore."

"The incident was observed by witnesses on shore who paddled a boat out into the river to rescue the member who stayed with the overturned boat. The second member was lost from sight. He was not wearing a personal flotation device."

Mayo resident Samantha Anderson said community members maintained a vigil on the riverbank throughout Wednesday.

"[We are] wanting this situation to come to a close and for some sort of conclusion," she said.

Potvin has been with the force for one year.

"We don't know why he was not wearing (a life-jacket), or if he was and took it off for some reason, so that will form part of the Occupational Health and Safety investigation that will take place," Rogers said Wednesday.

Rogers said it is RCMP policy for officers to wear a life-jacket any time they are on a boat or around a dock, but it is not required by law as long as vessels are equipped with enough life-jackets for all people on board.

He said at the time of the incident, Potvin was wearing light body armour and his full duty belt, including his firearm. The equipment weighs about nine kilograms in total, he said.

An Environment Canada spokeswoman said the average temperature of the Stewart River at this time of year is between 12 C and 17 C.

Because of Mayo's location in the North and the time of year, there are only about two to four hours when darkness becomes a factor and searching is not practical.

Potvin is one of three RCMP officers stationed at the detachment in Mayo, a tight-knit community of about 500 people, where he lives with his wife.

It was not known if the couple has any children.

RCMP search crews from Mayo, Dawson City and Whitehorse were on the scene searching for Potvin with the assistance of local residents, a K9 unit, a police airplane and a local helicopter. An RCMP dive team from Prince George, B.C., was also on site.

Five RCMP officers and local community members began the search immediately Tuesday evening and continued past midnight and resumed their efforts at first light Wednesday.

Five boats were searching on the river Wednesday. The capsized vessel remained flipped and resting on a sandbank.

"Any time we have an incident involving any of our members, regardless of what the outcome is, it affects us in many ways," Rogers said. "Certainly... we're trying to remain optimistic he'll be found safe, but we are realistic that the more time that passes, the likelihood of survival is less.

"But we do remain optimistic and we are grateful for the support of not only the community, but all the other agencies and people that are assisting the RCMP in this."

Mayor Scott Bolton said his family knew the young officer, but declined further comment.

At the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, which is located in the community, a phone message said Wednesday their offices would remain closed all day to help in the search for the constable.

Mayo is about 400 kilometres north of Whitehorse.

(Canwest, CBC News)

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