Gene Ralston checks for an email from the B.C. Coroners office for further instructions at the Beaver Point Resort near Burns Lake

Gene Ralston checks for an email from the B.C. Coroners office for further instructions at the Beaver Point Resort near Burns Lake

Francois Lake search yields tentative find

Believed to be local resident lost in recent boating accident

A specialized search team has discovered what is believed to be the body of a local man who went missing and is presumed drowned after a boating accident on Francois Lake on June 7, 2013. Efforts are now focused on recovery.

Burns Lake resident Syd Neville went missing and was presumed drowned after a small boat he was in with his nephew was overturned in heavy weather on Francois Lake, 26 kilometres south of Burns Lake, on the evening of June 7. Efforts by local RCMP, the Lakes District Search and Rescue, and many volunteers were unable to find Neville.

Gene and Sandy Ralston, Idaho citizens from the Boise Idaho area,  arrived in Burns Lake last Monday with specialized underwater search equipment. They began their search the next day, and by late Thursday afternoon, they were able to confirm they had found what appears to be a body.

Their efforts were made possible by local residents seeking closure for the Neville family. The Ralstons use ‘side-scan sonar’ and have been able to assist in more than 80 body recoveries throughout North America in the past 11 years.

Recently, they recovered the bodies of two Langley teens who drowned in Nicola Lake near Merritt B.C. Shortly after that recovery, they assisted in the recovery of the body of John Poole, who was lost in the waters of Shuswap Lake on April 30, 2013.

Their custom built sonar equipment has been used to search in waters as deep as 850 feet. The sonar unit is suspended by a cable at the required depth while their boat follows a search grid pattern guided by satellite global positioning systems (GPS). They do not charge anything beyond travel and search expenses for their services.

Currently, the Ralstons are waiting at the Beaver Point campground south of Burns Lake for word from officials on what the next course of action will be.

They have their own remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to assist with recovery. Tethered to a surface boat, it allows for unmanned body recoveries.

“Normally we’re involved with the recovery,” said Gene. “But we haven’t  yet heard back from the coroner’s office.”

Seated in their custom RV which also serves as the boat tow-vehicle and mobile headquarters, Gene described a life on the road with Sandy.

Now retired, the couple spend most of every year either on the road to assist with recovery efforts, or at home working on and maintaining their equipment, RV and boat.

It can be difficult to be called into sad situation so often, but Gene said the couple focuses on the outcome.

“We look past that [sadness] to what it’s going to mean to the family when we bring  someone home.”