Rutherford Bridge survivor mourns lost brother 

Casey Burnette tells how older brother told him to remain calm, then swim

The search for Ed Elliott and Jamie Burnette, which began before dawn on Saturday, Oct. 18, wound down Wednesday after four days of intensive air and ground searches of Rutherford Creek.

Search parties, comprised of emergency services personnel, friends, family and volunteers, worked from sun-up to sun-down each day desperately hoping to find the two men and the red Chevy Blazer they were driving home to Pemberton when it plunged into the river early Saturday morning after the Rutherford Bridge collapsed.

A third person in the vehicle, Jamie’s brother Casey Burnette, managed to free himself from the SUV and swim to safety.

Jamie Burnette and Elliott are missing and presumed drowned.

On Wednesday, Casey and members of the family at last spoke at a press conference at the RCMP detachment in Pemberton.

Casey remembers his older brother telling him to calm down, take one last breath and start swimming, just moments after their vehicle dropped from the roadway into Rutherford Creek. Unknown to them, the bridge had washed out as a result of flooding.

"I exited first," said Casey, who was visibly upset throughout the press conference. "Immediately when I hit the water I was in a spin cycle. Upside down, all around – I didn’t know what was up, didn’t know where I was going, it was dark.

"I was fortunate. I took five or six breaths. I didn’t know if I was above the water or below, but I got enough air to carry myself to shore."

When he got to safety he looked for Ed and Jamie, but they didn’t surface.

Casey says that by the time they knew something was so wrong, it was too late to brake. The next thing he knew, the truck was in the rapids.

Jamie kept it together, said Casey, and told them to wait until the truck filled up with water, take a breath of air, and start swimming.

When Casey got to dry land, he tried to put some distance between himself and the river, but discovered that he was actually on a small island. He found a stump in a cluster of trees that he climbed, and waited there until the sun came up four hours later.

After nobody came to find him, Casey crossed the river to dry land and walked towards a nearby construction site. A man found him and gave him a ride to the hospital.

Although he wasn’t ready to stop looking, Gordon Elliott, Ed’s father, acknowledged the decision to call off the search Wednesday because he didn’t want the searchers to put themselves at risk.

"We can’t have these volunteers risking their lives," he said.

Jamie’s father Barry also spoke on behalf of the Burnette family, offering a prayer for Jamie.

Searchers discovered parts of a vehicle Tuesday afternoon but the RCMP have yet to confirm they were from the Blazer. The RCMP has sent those car parts to experts who will determine what make and model vehicle they came from.

The police have still not ruled out the possibility that a third car may have fallen into Rutherford Creek after the bridge was washed out, and had yet to be reported missing.

An RCMP dive team and helicopter went to the area shortly afterwards to begin an underwater search.

At the press conference on Wednesday the RCMP and Pemberton Search and Rescue announced that they would stand down their land and air search of the area. Experts determined that the likelihood of survival was low and the risk to rescue personnel was high. They had contacted the families of the missing men to inform them of the decision.

Until further evidence is found, both men will remain listed as missing persons.

Jamie Burnette, 27, and Elliott, 26, have worked at Moe Joe’s Nightclub since the summer of 1999, when the club first opened its doors. Jamie, a Whistler Minor Hockey coach who was just married a month ago in Ontario, was the bar manager and bartender and Elliott was the head doorman.

Respecting the wishes of their families, friends of the victims are withholding comments to the media.

One friend of both missing men described them as friendly, funny and family-oriented men, and expressed his hope that the community will learn their story.

Friends of Ed and Jamie are holding a charity benefit this Friday, Oct. 24, at Moe Joe’s to raise money for the Victims of the Rutherford Creek Bridge Disaster Fund. The proceeds will go towards helicopter fees, food costs, and families of the victims.

Members of WDC (Whole Damn County) will play at the fundraiser event. Donations at the door will go directly to the fund.

In addition, a silent auction was held at the Crab Shack on Thursday evening.

People who wish to contribute to the fund can go to any Royal Bank location to make a donation to the Victims of the Rutherford Creek Bridge Disaster Fund; account number 1012798, transit number 08500.

Readers also liked…

Latest in Whistler

More by Andrew Mitchell

© 1994-2019 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation