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Daring river rescue nets Arrowsmith Search and Rescue member a bravery decoration

Nick Rivers was lowered 26 metres from a cliff to rescue a man who had fallen into the roaring Little Qualicum River in December 2020
Nick Rivers, an Arrowsmith search-and-rescue volunteer from Parksville, saved a man stranded in the river in Little Qualicum Falls Park on Dec. 12, 2020. VIA NICK RIVERS

Ken Neden says he’ll never forget a daring 2020 rescue by fellow Arrowsmith Search and Rescue member Nick Rivers — one that recently won him the Governor General’s Decoration for Bravery.

Rivers was lowered 26 metres from a cliff by a rope system to rescue a man who had fallen into the roaring Little Qualicum River west of Qualicum Beach.

Rivers had to battle the strong current and ended up jumping into the river when the man fell off the log he was on and was being pushed by the current toward a nearby 37-metre-high waterfall.

“The water was really, really raging down,” Neden said. “I’ve been doing this for nearly 50 years now and that was far and above the most dangerous, most intense rescue.”

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Neden was one of the people at the top end of the rope during the rescue, and said Rivers was the only person on the scene in December 2020 qualified to be  sent down into the river gorge where the man had fallen in.

The rescue effort involved 32 people, including members of the Arrowsmith group, the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad and crews from the Coombs and Dashwood fire departments.

Neden said the extensive news coverage of the rescue, which was captured on video, even included an outlet in England, which hired a camera person from Vancouver to film local interviews.

Rivers told the Times Colonist just after the rescue that the man had been in the frigid river for up to half an hour.

The two men eventually made it to the river’s edge and were hauled up the cliff to safety. The rescued man was injured and hypothermic, but recovered after treatment in a Vancouver hospital.

The Governor General’s office said the Decoration for Bravery goes to the type of people who “would never call themselves heroes, but that’s exactly what they are: everyday heroes.”

“The individuals recognized by these decorations are those who have risked their lives and chose to defy their own instinct of survival to try to save a loved one or a perfect stranger whose life was in immediate danger.”

The 32-year-old Rivers, who joined the Arrowsmith group as an 18-year-old, said although he was singled out for the award, it’s a testament to the organization.

“I’m really proud to be a member.”

Members put in thousands of hours of training each year to be able to do what they do, Rivers said.

“That level of technical rescue at the river is not an easy thing to pull off on any day.”

Neden said Rivers does a great deal for the volunteer organization as its president, search manager, swift-water expert and more.

“I think he somehow squeezes 48 hours into each day,” Neden said.

Rivers noted that the group raises funds to maintain the operation, and donations can be made at

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