MOON RIVER, Ont. – A distraught family was forced to say farewell to their son in a body bag Tuesday, after he and two others went missing in dangerously tumultuous water at a popular cliff-jumping area in Ontario’s Muskoka cottage region.
Peter Ludian, 21, who was visiting from Poland, was one of three young men who never resurfaced after cliff-jumping with four other friends Sunday afternoon.
Ontario Provincial Police are hoping swimmers will take heed from the tragic long weekend, which ended in an all-day search for the bodies of three young men in an eddy beneath Moon Falls waterfall, near Bala, Ont.
The falls had flooded to dangerous levels, causing many locals to shake their heads at the daring attempt to jump off them, and police to issue a warning about unsafe swimming conditions caused by heavy rainfall.
“This was a terrible tragedy that will also have a devastating impact on the families and friends of these young men, “said police Commissioner Julian Fantino. “I can not stress enough the importance of being cautious and knowing the conditions and your own abilities before you elect to enter the water.”
Insp. Ed Medved of the Bracebridge detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police said Ludian’s was the first body police pulled from the water around 9:15 a.m. Tuesday. He added the dead man’s family was at the scene to identify him.
A local woman, who did not want to be identified, said she escorted Ludian’s parents to the site. Four other family members hiked solemnly to the falls, shortly after police recovered the body from a swirling pooled area.
“It was really intense, it was really private,” she said. “It was his mother and father that were out there.”
A woman, who appeared to be Ludian’s mother, kneeled over and kissed the hand of the man as two other family members wept over the body.
A man who had come to the scene with Ludian’s family took one last look at the body bag flapping in the wind before walking away.
The rest of the family stood staring into the vortex where the young man died.
Police loaded the body onto the helicopter as the family looked on.
At about 1:25 p.m., police found another man’s body, clad in red swim trunks, in water more than seven metres deep.
The body of Vladimir Sirghi, 22, of Barrie, Ont., was found in a calmer area of water about 200 metres downstream from the falls.
A provincial police dive team was using sonar, two divers and a motor boat to locate the body of 31-year-old Vladimir Tsimfer, from Mississauga, Ont., Tuesday night. They still had not found anything around 6:30 p.m. when a dark rain cloud descended over the area.
The three swimmers went missing Sunday during a long weekend stay on the river, in the popular camping and cottage district.
Seven friends had entered into the fast-moving water, but only four came out.
A group of six “heroes” from Barrie saw the swimmers in trouble and reacted quickly to save some of them, said Mark Walsh, who is renting a cottage on the river, and had beers with the men on Monday.
“They had a machete with them, chopped down a tree, and put some towels or shirts in the end of it and got…four of them out,” Walsh said.
“I told them, you guys should be proud of yourselves. You saved lives today.”
Bill McRobb, who owns a marina on the river and was assisting police with the search said in his 27 years living on the river, he had never seen another incident like this, even though the falls are a popular cliff-jumping spot.
“People just have to use their common sense,” he said.
The swimmers entered the lower portion of the waterfall where the water moved faster than normal and was half a metre higher than usual due to recent heavy rainfall.
Police divers had attempted to search for the men Monday, but the flooded falls were too dangerous for their divers, and they waited until a dam was closed to control the water flow.
Although the water was significantly less turbulent Tuesday, with the water levels reduced nearly 50 per cent, the falls were still flowing above their normal capacity, McRobb said.
Conditions were harsh for the provincial police dive team Tuesday, as strong winds and a powerful current pushed them out of their paths.
The police divers held onto ropes so they would not get swept away in the current during their search.
Medved said it’s too early to tell whether alcohol played a role. The cause of their deaths will not officially be determined until an autopsy is performed.
“But it’s clearly based on circumstances of some people making poor choices of where to go swimming,” he said.
“It was a really poor and unfortunate choice.”