CANMORE – Two women were lucky to escape with their lives after their vehicle plunged into the Spray Lakes Reservoir canal near Goat Pond.
Canmore RCMP said alcohol or drugs were not a factor, but say it appears driver error led the Toyota Forerunner to flip over a guardrail on the gravel Spray Lakes Road and submerge in 4.5 metres of water on Monday evening (July 26).
Police say the driver and passenger miraculously were able to get themselves out of the submerged vehicle without serious injuries – or worse.
“It’s not very often that a vehicle ends up in the Spray with a positive outcome,” said Cpl. Sabrina Clayton of Canmore RCMP.
“They were purely lucky to be able to get out, especially considering the vehicle was fully submerged by the time we got there.”
In December 2010, an SUV carrying four people plummeted into the frigid waters of Spray Lakes Reservoir along the snow-covered road, also known as the Smith-Dorrien Trail, about 10 kilometres from Canmore.
Trapped inside the submerged vehicle were James Allan and Jennifer, Jaimie and Darrin Waugh. Jaimie was the only survivor, losing her husband, brother and sister-in-law.
A week later, a Calgary woman was involved in incident with an uncannily similarity to the deadly Dec. 30 incident.
Concrete barriers were eventually built in that location and a full safety review was conducted on the 66-km gravel road that connects Canmore to Highway 40 through Kananaskis Country.
In Monday night’s near-miss incident, which occurred about 17 kilometres from Canmore, the rental Toyota went over a guardrail as the driver tried to navigate a corner near the one-lane bridge crossing the canal by Goat Pond.
Canmore Fire-Rescue also responded to the scene, and with the help of Standish Towing, the submerged vehicle was pulled from reservoir.
Department officials say the vehicle drifted downstream about nine or 10 metres, but came to rest on the bottom of the canal in about 4.5 metres of slow-moving water.
Captain JT Gill of Canmore Fire-Rescue said the department responded with its boat and rescue equipment to help get the Toyota Forerunner out of the canal.
He said the occupants of the vehicle were already on shore being interviewed by RCMP by they time they arrived.
“The windows were probably closed at the time so that traps the air in the vehicle, which gives it more buoyancy, which increases the time it takes for it to sink,” he said.
“Once they were down, they managed to open the window and get out.”
Gill reminded residents and visitors to travel with caution on Spray Lakes Road.
“There’s a lot less traction on gravel roads, especially now when it’s so dusty, and visibility is very low,” he said.
Clayton said the driver was following another vehicle and reported the conditions were dusty.
“From our perspective, it looks likes driver error, accompanied with inability to see and just totally unfamiliar with the road,” she said.
“The road is more deceiving, I think, than a lot of people realize.”
Clayton said people should drive the Spray Lakes Road according to the road conditions at the time.
“Whether it’s a paved road, a gravel road, ice or snow, or a perfectly dry road, a speed limit is literally the limit for the road in perfect conditions,” she said.
“That’s always something to bear in mind; if you’re unfamiliar you can always go slower with your hazards on.”
The 66-km gravel road was built in the 1940s by the Calgary Power Company to access its dam infrastructure in the Spray River Valley.
Spray Lakes Road is not part of the provincial highway network. It is considered a local park road, under the jurisdiction of Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) and Alberta Transportation maintains the road on behalf of AEP.
According to Alberta Transportation, there have been 140 reported collisions between 2009-2018, which are the latest statistics available.
Of these, one collision resulted in three fatalities, 22 collisions resulted in 39 injuries and 117 were property damage only.
"At this time, there are no plans to pave the road," said Rob Williams, press secretary to Alberta's transportation minister in an email.
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