Lost in the flood 

Casey Burnette, the only survivor of last year’s Rutherford Creek disaster, recalls that fateful night

On Saturday, Oct. 18 last year, Daryl Stevenson, 31, and Michael Benoit, 29, died when their Volvo plunged off a washed out bridge into Rutherford Creek. Sometime either earlier or later that night a second vehicle carrying three people went into Rutherford Creek. The bodies of Jamie Burnette, 27, and Edward Elliot, 26, were never found. Casey Burnette, 22, survived. This is his story.

Record rainfall from a storm saturated the south coast of British Columbia in the middle of October, 2003, swelling the creeks and rivers that drain the steep terrain in the Sea to Sky corridor. But it didn’t prevent Casey Burnette, his older brother, Jamie, and their friend, Edward Elliot, from commuting from their jobs in Whistler to their homes in Pemberton.

As Casey, Jamie and Ed left their jobs at Moe Joe’s night club at 3 a.m. that Saturday the rain continued to pour down, as it had been doing for hours. It had been a good night at the club, for the fall, with a few conventioneers and many locals enjoying the evening.

Jamie, 27, the bar manager, was driving their red 1995 Ford Blazer the 35 kilometres back to Pemberton. Jamie had moved to the corridor from Ontario in 1997. He and his wife, Katie, had been married less than a month and had a four-month-old son, Cole. Casey, 22, was a bartender. He had moved to Whistler in 2001 to spend time with his brother and was in the back seat. Ed, 26, a doorman, was sitting in the front passenger seat talking to Jamie about how the bar was going as the SUV came around a foggy corner on Highway 99 and onto a bridge. Suddenly, Jamie slammed on the brakes, the vehicle skidded on the rain-soaked pavement and the conversation stopped.

Casey looked up through the front windshield, grabbed the seat behind Jamie and braced himself. A second later the SUV plunged off the bridge.

"What’s going on!" Ed demanded sitting bolt upright as the SUV hit the raging waters of Rutherford Creek.

"We’re in the river!" Casey screamed as rocks smashed his window and gushing water threw him across the back seat.

As freezing water quickly filled the vehicle, Jamie punched the driver’s door window with his elbow, trying to shatter the glass. Ed was trying to jump through the space between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat into the back.

It was completely black. The SUV was being pummelled by rocks and trees as it was tossed and rolled by the swollen creek, and as water filled the trunk. The water rose quickly to Casey’s waist, then to his chest. Casey looked into the front where Jamie and Ed had more air. Suddenly the SUV tilted nose down, spilling water into the front seat. Then Casey heard Jamie speak.

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