3 family members drown at popular waterfall in central Alberta

Three adults from one family drowned Tuesday while swimming at the bottom of Crescent Falls on the Bighorn River in west-central Alberta.

Search and rescue teams from Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg were called just before 8 p.m. MT to the incident at the falls, about 26 kilometres from Nordegg.

The three adults were swimming when one of them got swept under the falls.

The two others tried to assist when they also got swept under the falls, RCMP said. 

Two of the adults were 38 years old. They lived in Edmonton, RCMP said. 

Anoop Kumar Oad, 25, (left) and Partab Rai Oad, 38, drowned at Crescent Falls west of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., on Tuesday night. (Jai Parkash Oad/Facebook)

Anoop Kumar Oad, 25, was an exchange student from Pakistan, studying engineering at the University of Alberta. 

His uncle Dr. Partab Rai Oad, 38, and aunt Venjhar Oad, 38, also died.

Dileep Kumar Oad, Anoop Kumar’s uncle, confirmed his relatives’ identities with CBC Wednesday evening. 

Kumar Oad said the family was not ready to speak about their lost loved ones, but they wanted to share a message for the government and park officials. 

“We wish for them to put up signs in spots like this where people can be washed away and lose their lives in storms,” Kumar Oad said over a Facebook message.

Three children, aged 10, six and three, were on the bank yelling for help, police said.

Other people in the area found two of the adults and attempted to resuscitate them. The body of the third adult was found at about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, RCMP said.

“There are now children without their parents,” RCMP Cpl. Laurel Scott said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s heartbreaking, and I can’t even imagine how these children are going to process this.

“To say tragic — I feel that doesn’t even do this whole situation justice.” 

‘Powerful waterfall’

Scott said Crescent Falls are particularly dangerous because they’re so high.

Monica Ahlstrom, president of Search and Rescue Alberta and the lead on the search team during the incident, said the falls can be deceiving for those unfamiliar with the area. 

“It’s a more powerful waterfall than people believe and the hydraulics there are significant, so it was a challenge,” she said of the search and rescue operation.

She said it took search and rescue team members six hours Wednesday morning to retrieve one of the bodies.

“In the back of everyone’s minds, you know the tragedy that unfolded and how vast it was. Normally we’re dealing with maybe one or two people, but this was a whole family that’s been traumatized by this event.”

Crescent Falls is a series of two waterfalls on the Bighorn River.

Crescent Falls Viewpoint is a popular provincial campground and picnic area near Nordegg, about 90 kilometres west of Rocky Mountain House.

“We offer our heartfelt condolences to everyone affected by and involved in this tragic incident,” Cpl. Ryan Hack, with the Rocky Mountain House RCMP, said in a news release.

“We also offer our thanks to the citizens, and partner agencies, who immediately jumped into action to provide assistance in the face of these powerful falls.”

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