RCMP: Five dead in Kelowna crane collapse, recovery efforts continue

Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | July 13, 2021

Five people are dead after a catastrophic crane collapse at a construction site in downtown Kelowna, B.C., the RCMP have announced.

Insp. Adam MacIntosh of Kelowna RCMP said three male construction workers were found dead at the scene and one male died of their injuries in hospital. Police believe a fifth victim, not associated with the construction site, was killed and buried in rubble while working in a nearby office building. However, until crews can ensure the site is safe from further collapse, the body cannot be recovered.

“We are bringing in engineers to do what is required to safely dismantle or secure portions of the crane to where we can assist with the recovery of that individual’s remains,” said MacIntosh during a press conference Tuesday.

One person was released from hospital with minor injuries.

The risk of further collapse was a significant concern when first responders arrived on scene.

“It was extremely dangerous,” he said. “We are very fortunate and we want to take what whatever time is needed to ensure that we do this as safely as possible.”

He believes the remains could be recovered as early as this afternoon (July 13).

“Yesterday was a tragic day,” said MacIntosh. “To see all those workers standing there knowing that they had lost friends and coworkers – I can only imagine what they are going through.”

‘Catastrophic failure’ during dismantling

The incident occurred at the Brooklyn Bernard Block project, a 25-storey tower being developed by Mission Group. The developer stated the incident occurred about 10:45 a.m.

“There was a catastrophic failure where a crane fell during the dismantling process at our Brooklyn construction site,” said the developer. “Mission Group immediately evacuated the building and emergency crews were dispatched to the site.”

The company added it will continue to work with emergency responders to assess the situation.

“Mission Group expresses its deepest sympathy for the families of those affected by this tragedy. We have set up support services to help those in need. The health and safety of our employees, trades and the community at large remain our top priority.”

Mission Group CEO Jonathan Friesen told reporters all the deceased were working on the project but were not employees of Mission Group.

“I can confirm that they were not Mission Group employees, but that does not change the fact that people died today, so let’s all keep that in mind,” said Friesen.

Investigation and community response underway

According to Shannon Miller, a communications officer with BC Emergency Health Services, emergency crews were dispatched shortly before 11 a.m. Monday morning.

A dozen ambulances responded, including two critical care teams, and found multiple people with injuries.

WorkSafeBC confirmed that it has been notified of the incident and investigation teams are responding.

“The purpose of our investigation is to identify the cause of the incident, including any contributing factors, so that similar incidents can be prevented from happening in the future,” reads a statement from the organization.

The Central Okanagan Region’s Emergency Operations Centre has been activated to assist with crane collapse response efforts. They have declared a local state of emergency for seven days and banned air traffic above the city, noting the site of the collapse and the surrounding area remains unstable and unsafe.

They advised the families of those injured or missing to go to the Parkinson Recreation Centre (McIntosh Room) at 1700 Parkinson Way.

Officials and industry offer condolences to victims

“We anxiously await updates on this heart-wrenching accident, and we hope our incredible first responders are able to get help to the workers involved,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan in a tweet about the incident.

Labour Minister Harry Bains also commented on the news, offering his condolences to the victims and their families.

“Every worker has the right to return home safely at the end of the day, and I feel awful for the loved ones and colleagues impacted by this tragedy,” said Bains. “All workers have the right to a safe and healthy workplace – even one injury or death is too many. This is a heartbreaking reminder that we must strive to ensure the safety of all workers to prevent incidents like this from happening.”

Groups like the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) and the Vancouver Island Construction Association (VICA) also reacted to the incident.

“On behalf of the VRCA family, our hearts are with our construction brothers and sisters working in Kelowna,” said VRCA president Donna Grant. “We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those lost in yesterday’s tragedy and our sincere wishes for speedy recoveries for those injured.”

Labour advocates, including the BC Federation of Labour and the BC Building trades also responded, urging officials to get to the bottom of what happened.

“This is devastating,” said the group in a public statement. “Our thoughts right now are with the injured workers, their co-workers and families. There must be a thorough investigation by the Workers Compensation Board.”

Brynn Bourke, interim executive director for the BC Building Trades, said her heart goes out to all the people of Kelowna and the families whose lives have been forever impacted.

“This horrific construction accident and the unimaginable trauma it has wrought reminds us that this is not always the case,” said Bourke. “It also affirms the necessity of effective occupational health and safety regulations and vigilance to keep workers safe.”

Bourke added it is essential that a full and thorough investigation takes place and critical that the RCMP lead that investigation in co-ordination with WorkSafeBC and the BC Coroners Service.

Mike McKenna, executive director of the BC Construction Safety Alliance, echoed her sentiments.

“First and foremost, we at the BCCSA are most concerned for the injured and the families of the deceased,” said McKenna. “This is a tragedy on so many levels. Our hope is there is something we can learn from this incident to ensure we can avoid it ever happening again.”

“All of us at ICBA, and in the construction industry, have heavy hearts today — grieving the terrible accident in Kelowna and thinking of the families, friends and loved ones of those who were lost or injured,” The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association stated.

The Journal of Commerce will continue to follow this story as it develops.