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Fifth body found in Kelowna crane collapse, investigations continue

Man buried beneath rubble when the crane fell on his office building
The crane pictured here in operation on March 26, 2021, before it collapsed while being taken down on Monday. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News file photo)

Five people are confirmed dead as a result of Monday’s (July 12) catastrophic crane collapse at a construction site in downtown Kelowna.

Specialized rescue crews from Vancouver helped recover the fifth victim’s body late Tuesday night, July 13, after four workers, including the crane operator, were confirmed dead earlier in the day.

Four of the five victims have been identified as construction workers in online fundraisers: brothers Eric and Patrick Stemmer, of the family-owned Stemmer Construction that operated the crane on-site; Jared Zook and Cailen Vilness.

As of Wednesday morning, the three fundraisers have raised a combined total of almost $120,000 for the victims’ families.

The fifth man, who remains publicly unidentified, is believed to have been working in the building the crane collapsed on top of and not associated with the St. Paul Street worksite.

When the crane fell, he was buried beneath the rubble.

“Everyone involved in this tragic scene has worked tirelessly to bring the search for victims to an end,” said Kelowna RCMP Insp. Adam MacIntosh.

“At this time, we do not believe there are any other persons who were injured or killed as a result of the collapse of this crane.

“Our deepest condolences go to the family, friends, and coworkers of those who were lost here.”

READ MORE: Deadly Kelowna crane collapse sparks calls for mandatory training, certification for operators

READ MORE: Multiple deaths reported after ‘catastrophic’ crane collapse in Kelowna

WorkSafeBC, the BC Coroners Service and the Kelowna RCMP have all launched investigations into the incident.

An evacuation order has been in place since Monday, July 12, shortly after the crane toppled at 11 a.m. as crews were working to dismantle it.

As of Wednesday morning, that order, as well as a local state of emergency, remains in effect for buildings in the area surrounding the construction site as crews continue work to secure and dismantle the crane.

Once that work is complete, the situation will be reassessed to determine whether it’s safe to allow residents and businesses to return.

The head of Mission Group, the development company building the 25-storey residential tower, said Monday that he didn’t know what caused the crane to fall.

CEO Jonathan Friesen said the company’s staff and sub-trades were in a state of shock and grief counselling had been offered to anyone who needed it. “We want (workers) to go home at the end of the day healthy and safe,” he said Monday.

“That did not happen today. Any words I could come up with pale in the shadow of so great a loss for these families.

“Our hearts go out to the families involved.”

Stemmer Construction has not responded to Black Press Media’s request for comment.

Premier John Horgan called the collapse tragic, saying it was “an event that, quite honestly, you don’t expect to happen on a sunny July day here in British Columbia.”

“Yet, it can happen,” he told a news conference. “We need to redouble our efforts on workplace safety and any of the findings that WorkSafe brings forward or the coroner brings forward, we’ll certainly be implementing right across the province.”

A Twitter post Tuesday by Prime Minister Justice Trudeau read: “My heart is in Kelowna today, with the families, friends, and colleagues of the workers who lost their lives.”

A candlelight vigil has been planned for Friday at 9 p.m. near the site of the crane collapse. The aim is to gather as close to the site as possible, organizers say, but the exact location had yet to be determined.

– With files from The Canadian Press