It was deep in a Prairie winter with howling winds, biting ice pellets and below freezing temperatures.
Day after day, for ten weeks, we constructed natural gas pipelines. Many men on our team were in their late teens to mid twenties. There were four co-workers who had either family or business connections to the management staff and they, at times would disappear for a few days. As if nothing had happened, they would reappear on site.
One morning, this happened again. We all thought it was because they had been partying. It sure did not help our morale that they got away with these actions because they were from a privileged background. Any other worker would have been terminated with such behaviour.
On that same morning, a police vehicle pulled up at our site. We half expected that the four miscreants would be rescued from jail once again, without any consequences to them. It had happened before, even drunk driving charges had somehow been mysteriously dropped, we thought because of parental influences. “Do you have a SUV style vehicle here at the site?” the heavy set policeman said.
“Yes, but it is missing, and we figure the four kids from our team have taken it. They probably have abandoned it somewhere.”
“Sorry to have to break this news to you but we just fished the car out of the Bow River. It had gone over a high embankment and crashed partially through the frozen river ice cover and the driver is still inside the vehicle.”
You can imagine our shock when we heard this. It was like a bad movie gone sour - we felt powerless,
“Oh but there are three others kids with the driver. Where are they now?”
The officer went to his vehicle and radioed for more help. A full scale search was about to begin for the others.
“We know the terrain, we can help.” “No, that is out of the question. Thank you anyway but it would contaminate the area with so many footprints and vehicles.”
His radio phone crackled and a voice spit out what we all had been dreading.
“A frozen body has been found by a local rancher. We followed the footprints to an embankment downstream and found one more body. We are assuming that the fourth is still in the iced over water. There was alcohol in the vehicle and by the tire marks; it looks like the kids had been doing spins in the fields.”
After the shock became less and we accepted that the kids would not be returning, the recriminations started. It was not pretty as they blamed our foreman for not keeping a tighter reign on them.
It was too much for the foreman as he vented his frustration to the police. “I tried, but each time the kids got in trouble, the darn parents bailed them out. They got away with blue murder.”
One body was still missing after an extensive search. Spring melt would bring it to the surface. Jim, the one still missing, was a mischievous boy, always taking life as a joke. Black hair flopping over his face, sticking up at odd angels, his laughter ringing out while he worked. the river was too fast to send divers in any further along the river.
This tragedy struck home with us. Jim's father was a well liked pipeline inspector who earned his title through hard work and dedication that led to his family living a very comfortable life. He respected all employees and treated us as his own sons. It hurt us to see how this tragedy affected him.
In time he would later say to us “I gave Jim too much leeway. In fact, I gave so much that it killed him.”
Many times I would see him staring endlessly into the horizon at the accident scene. “Sir, I cannot express how badly I feel for you and your wife. I wish there was something I could do to help.”
“Ed, you’re an okay guy. Please make the best of your life so that you don’t have any regrets.”
In Spring, as we all had figured it would, the water released him. Company policy was changed but too late. The elite and especially their children were mandated to follow rules and expectations without exception, as crew safety and procedures must take precedence over management influences. If crew members were to disobey the rules then they were fired regardless of family connections.
In an ironic twist, at the inquiry, it was found that if the young people had gone in the opposite direction, there was a small heated meter station that may have helped them to survive.
Too late for them, but perhaps this knowledge can save other kids out partying