Evacuees from the Lougheed Highway (Highway 7) mudslides are rushed to a bus to be taken to a nearby shelter on Monday afternoon. (File photo)

Evacuees from the Lougheed Highway (Highway 7) mudslides are rushed to a bus to be taken to a nearby shelter on Monday afternoon. (File photo)

Like a disaster movie: Surprise birthday visit in the Shuswap concludes with harrowing drive home

Sicamous man says son and grandson airlifted to safety after spending night in vehicle on Highway 7

During a surprise birthday visit from his son and grandson over the weekend, Shuswap resident John Schlosar couldn’t shake his concern for their drive back to the Lower Mainland.

“It was great seeing them… and we had a wonderful celebration on the weekend,” said Schlosar. “But all weekend what I was thinking was, ‘Man, I hope things are good going back.’”

John’s son Jay Schlosar and grandson Linus did arrive safely home in Vancouver, but not until Monday – after a harrowing day of travel Sunday during which they managed to avoid multiple catastrophic events before getting stuck between mudslides on Highway 7, about 28 kilometres west from Hope.

“We’re so glad they’re back home safe,” said John, who lives in Sicamous with his wife Carol.

Prior to Jay and Linus’ departure on Nov. 14, John said they checked the weather and road conditions to make sure it was OK to travel via Highway 1 and the Coquihalla. John said Jay and Linus made it to about Kamloops when he heard the Coquihalla had closed. Then Highway 1 was closed through the Fraser Canyon.

Keeping in touch by cell phone, John said his son and grandson stopped in Merritt where they had lunch before trying Highway 5A towards Princeton.

“It was a lovely sunny day there (in Merritt); they had some lunch and then headed out,” said John. “We know what happened to Merritt not long after that.”

With the heavy traffic, the drive to Princeton was slow going but they made it there and then took Highway 3 to Hope.

“There was another community they went through that ended up being closed,” said John, referring to Princeton.

“Jay’s comment about the whole thing was it was like one of those disaster movies where you’re driving on the road and the road is collapsing behind you.”

The drive through Manning Park was horrible, with heavy rain and bumper-to-bumper traffic, but they eventually made it to Hope where they were instructed by police to continue on via Highway 7.

“So they’re driving along and the traffic stops, and they find out from the people ahead of them that there’s been a huge slide,” said John. “So they try to turn around and go the other way to go back to Hope. All of a sudden they’re stopped because there’s a slide on that side and they’re blocked in.”

Read more: Salmon Arm couple stays hopeful while stranded in Hope

Read more: Reception centre opened in Salmon Arm for Merritt evacuees

Approximately 300 people were stranded on Highway 7 Sunday night, Jay and Linus among them.

At 8:13 p.m., a worried John shared a post on the Coquihalla Road Reports Facebook page, explaining his son was with those stuck between slides.

“He says there are dozens of vehicles caught between the two slides. Does anyone know anything about this, please?” asked John.

Meanwhile, John said Jay and other drivers stuck on the highway were instructed by a geo-technician on where they could safely park for the night.

John was messaged via Facebook that Royal Canadian Airforce Operations helicopters were being flown in to airlift people off the highway. At 12:15 p.m. Monday, Jay texted John to say helicopters were overhead.

Like the rest of their trip, the helicopter extraction, particularly the landing, was a hair-raising experience due to the windy, wet weather. John said the helicopter was swaying back and forth and they had to make a few attempts before landing in Agassiz, where they were taken to the community centre to warm up. From there, Jay and Linus managed to get a lift to Chilliwack, where they were dropped off at the Cottonwood Mall. Jay’s wife, Tamara, arranged with a friend to drive there and pick them up. The family left sometime after 5 p.m.

John said on this drive, the wind and rain picked up but his family managed to get through Abbotsford before flooding shut down Highway 1.

“It was another example of the road closing in behind you,” said John.

To John and Carol’s great relief, Tamara, Jay and Linus made it home safely around 8:30 p.m. on Monday. However, the Schlosars remain concerned for everyone impacted and/or displaced by the catastrophic weather conditions. The couple were among Sicamous residents forced to evacuate their homes over the summer due to the Two Mile Road wildfire.

The overall experience, for John, also served as a reminder of how important it is to be prepared for travelling – to pack extra food and blankets.

“You think, ‘Oh, it’s not snowing, I don’t need that stuff. It’s raining, it’s a little heavy, I can manage that,’” said Schlosar. “But you have no idea the rain is going to turn into torrential downpours that are wiping away canyons and roads.”

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