After rescue from Smoky River, two ‘hoping’ their friend is found alive
It has been days since a Grande Prairie boater was last seen, and hope is fading that he will be found – meanwhile, the two women he was with are reflecting on their experience, and they credit their lives to their missing friend.
On Saturday, Al Smith, 60, and two friends: Brook Dilworth and Nicole Belcourt, embarked on a canoe trip in northern Alberta. The group had planned the trip on the Simonette River for a few months.
Smith, an avid paddler, met Belcourt and Dilworth through work – they are all employed at the Prairie Mall in Grande Prairie. Smith’s brother said he’s the maintenance supervisor there.
“We had it planned for a couple months and it was like the third annual canoe trip we had done, and we were all super stoked for it,” Belcourt said in a phone interview. “The sun was shining and it wasn’t raining and everything was good.”
That day, Belcourt said the water was high, but the trio was able to handle it – but near the end of the trip conditions changed quickly.
“We were probably 20 minutes away from the stop where we were going to be done for the day, and we just got hit by a wave on the side of the canoe, and everybody flipped,” Belcourt said.
“We just held onto the canoe for as long as we could until it got sucked under because the undertow was pretty bad.”
The three, with Dilworth’s miniature dachshund Milo, grabbed onto debris in the water in an effort to stay afloat.
“We floated down the river for, I don’t know, four hours,” Belcourt said.
As they floated down the river, Belcourt said she was blowing a whistle on her lifejacket, and they were screaming in an effort to attract attention. They made their way onto logs.
“We randomly found a paddle, not one of our paddles, we had nothing with us,” Belcourt said. “We found a paddle so Al grabbed it and we tried to paddle to shore for a while, but we weren’t getting anywhere because by then the river had risen a crazy amount.”
Eventually, they saw a clearing, the River Stone Golf Course, and Smith told the two women to jump off and swim to shore.
“We were going to die if we didn’t jump off,” Belcourt said.
“When I first jumped off the log, I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Dilworth said. “My legs were so weak and cold I couldn’t feel them, I couldn’t feel my hands and I was holding Milo but Al pushed me, he said ‘You can do it you’re already off go go go.’”
The two women made it to shore, and Smith stayed on the logs – having lost his lifejacket when the boat flipped. He had told the two women he was worried he wouldn’t make it.
The women were treated for hypothermia.
“He never would have been able to live with himself if he had made it to shore, and they didn’t, so he took personal responsibility to make sure they were safe and that’s the way he lived his life,” Smith’s brother David told CTV News.
Both Dilworth and Belcourt, credit their friend for making sure they made it out of the harrowing experience alive.
“We definitely wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him, he saved our lives,” Dilworth said.
Meanwhile, hope is fading for finding Smith alive, although his friends and family are still holding out hope.
“If anyone could make it through that, we’re hoping it’d be him,” Belcourt said.
With files from Nicole Weisberg