NORTH WEST RIVER, N.L. — Locals are carrying on the search for the remains of a boater who went missing near North West River.
Luke Cooper, 43, has not been seen since early Sunday morning (July 15) when the canoe he was paddling capsized. A woman who was in the boat with him, but has not been named, managed to make it back to shore.
Sheila Cooper, Luke’s sister, said as near as the family has been able to piece together what happened, a bunch of people were drinking at Luke’s house in North West River Saturday night (July 14) and into the morning Sunday. Around 5 a.m. on the 15th, Luke and the unnamed woman went out in the canoe.
Sometime after that, another group of people having a campfire on the Sheshatshiu side of the river heard someone yelling out, ‘Help me, help me, I’m cold,’” Sheila said, and they managed to contact 911.
At approximately 6:30 a.m., RCMP in Sheshatshiu received a call there was a person in distress in the water between Sheshatshiu and North West River. They responded, along with ground search and rescue and a helicopter. On Monday, July 16, it was deemed to be a recovery rather than a rescue mission and police brought in divers.
Sheila Cooper talked to The Labradorian from the dock in North West River Tuesday afternoon (July 17) while, she said, RCMP divers were searching for her brother’s body and people in local vessels were scouring the shorelines. She said it has been an excruciatingly slow process for the family, but they are resigned to the fact Luke is deceased.
“We kind of knew it was a recovery effort right from the start,” she said, noting she believed Luke had been drinking and went out in the boat without a life jacket.
“We know it’s the most stupid thing you can do and he’s paying the ultimate price for it, his children are paying the ultimate price.”
Luke has four children ranging in age from 29 to 11-years-old and three grandchildren.
Sheila is imploring people to heed the lesson from the tragic circumstances by avoiding drinking and boating and always wearing a life jacket.
“What Luke did was wrong; he knew better,” she said. “I hope people learn from his actions. That would be about the only good thing to come of it.”
She was also grateful for the community support, noting North West River, Sheshatshiu and Happy Valley-Goose Bay have pulled together since the search began. People from all the communities have been bringing out food and beverages for the searchers and trying to help in any way they can.
“It’s been really good that way,” she said. “We really appreciate it.”
The RCMP confirmed on Friday (July 20) their search has been terminated, in consultation with the family, and that residents of the area are continuing on using their own equipment.
Police did not comment on whether any other investigations into the incident are occurring or pending.