Penticton Search and Rescue rescues two drivers trying to bypass rockslide closure

Okanagan motorists trying unsafe routes to get past Highway 97 closure

The view from the air of the #rockslide on Highway 97, north of Summerland. MoTi Okanagan Shuswap photo

As temperatures drop well below freezing, Penticton Search and Rescue is begging drivers not to try and find their own way past the slide blocking Hwy. 97 north of Summerland.

The slide, which has blocked the major route between the central and South Okanagan, came down Thursday, and the Ministry of Highways has closed the highway until further notice.

Related: UPDATE: Highway 97 remains closed after rock slide

“Despite warnings from police that motorists should not attempt to drive back roads around the Highway 97 landslide closure, some drivers still appear to be relying on GPS or in-car navigation systems to get from Penticton to Kelowna via back roads behind Summerland,” reads the PENSAR press release.

Search and Rescue has had to send rescue crews into back roads to evacuate two stranded drivers with the latest call coming Sunday afternoon.

As an Arctic front moves into the area, Search and Rescue manager Ron Muir is trying to reinforce the message to use designated detours.

“People are obviously frustrated and, despite the warnings from police officials, they think they have a solution and try a route that is not intended for year-round use,” wrote Muir. “What we find is that drivers are not equipped to deal with an emergency if they become stranded, thus putting themselves and rescue crews at risk.”

Late Sunday, the Ministry of Highways issued a release saying they anticipate the Highway 97 closure will continue for an extended period of time due to continued instability at the site of the rockfall, near Callan Road north of Summerland.

“Under a best-case scenario the closure will remain in effect until at least some point this evening (Sunday) at the earliest,” said Penticton MLA Dan Ashton tweeted on Sunday. “It is also possible the closure could extend into tomorrow or early next week.”

The alternate route between Penticton and Kelowna — for light vehicles, five tons or less — is the 201 Forest Service Road, accessed off Highway 33 near McCollough Road near Kelowna, and via Warren Avenue/Carmi Avenue in Penticton.

Road maintenance vehicles will be actively working on this route to ensure safe road conditions but drivers can expect up to 90 minutes of additional travel time compared to normal travel time between Summerland and Peachland on Highway 97.

Heavier vehicles and commercial trucks are required to detour via Highway 97C, Highway 5A and Highway 3A to Highway 3.

Drivers are reminded to slow down and drive with caution when using the two-lane 201 Forest Service Road and to check DriveBC.ca and @DriveBC on Twitter for updates on the Highway 97 closure.

“All we can ask is please, respect the advisories being posted and make sure you are prepared with a winter driving kit,” said Muir.


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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