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Delta throwback: Hoping to prevent future beach tragedies

The foot patrol was aimed at warning tardy bathers
Members of the Beach Grover volunteer fire department carry the body of Carl Otterman of Vancouver to shore following the double drowning of Otterman and his son, Glen, whose body was not retrieved until the next day.

Let’s head back to July 1961 when a foot patrol began to warn bathers who ventured onto the Boundary Bay sandbars at low tide when the tide was about to turn.

Municipal officials said the beach patrol warning would be given by Ken Metcalfe, 30.

His job was to patrol from his home near the international boundary down to Beach Grove, a distance of about two miles, and back again.

Carrying a blowhorn, he would wear a large white hat and a T-shirt marked “Delta Beach Patrol”. A swimmer with first aide training, he was to warn people a half-hour before the turn of the tide.

An earlier idea of having a pony patrol was dropped after tests showed that in parts of the beach the sand was too loose for an animal’s feet. The idea of a boat patrol was rejected because the water is too shallow.

The foot patrol was started following the death of a father and son on the flats a mile out from Centennial Beach a few days earlier.

The father collapsed in a vain attempt to save his son trapped by a fast-rising tide.

Carl Otterman and his family and some friends had planned a pleasant Sunday afternoon picnic at the beach.

He and some young children were playing on the mudflats when the tide moved in. He managed to save one of his children, bringing them to shore, but was swept away trying to retrieve his other son.

Don Luke, a photographer for the Optimist, was at the scene. He said a large warning sign and buoy in the water at a safe limit should be installed to prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy.

“Local residents are familiar with the treacherous way the water surrounds a person, but visitors cannot expect the all-too innocent mud flats to be the trap they are,” he said.

An inquiry ruled the deaths an accident.

Signs were then posted along the beach warning of the tide.