Kayaker who died was skilled soccer player

Family and friends are mourning the loss of Thomas Butcher, the 23-year-old Courtenay man who died in a kayaking accident in the frigid waters off Baynes Sound on the weekend.

Butcher died after he and a friend, also 23, set out in the dark and cold on a kayaking trip from Union Bay to Tree Island about 10 p.m. on Dec. 17, the B.C. Coroners Service said. His friend survived.

Butcher fell into the water after the two kayaks collided about a kilometre from shore.

Despite the best efforts of his friend, Butcher could not be saved, the coroners service said.

The friend swam to shore and flagged down a passing motorist, who called 911 around 12: 40 a.m. Sunday.

The 911 call triggered an all-out search for the missing kayaker which came to a tragic end when an RCMP dive team recovered Butcher’s body on Sunday afternoon, just after 4 p.m. His body was found under water not far from where he fell into the water. Butcher’s family has been notified of his death. The 23-year-old graduated from Highland Secondary in 2011 and then attended North Island College.

Butcher was a skilled soccer player, selected for a division 1 team with the Comox Valley United Soccer Club.

“Tommy was a well known and very much appreciated individual in our community for his work and character on the field as well as his generosity and character off the field,” said Tony Dickson, the club’s vice president for the select teams.

Dickson said club members are reeling from the death.

Butcher’s “contribution reaches far beyond himself and his team to many others in our soccer community,” Dickson said. “He will be very much missed and his memory will be very much treasured.”

For Paul Berry, of Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, the search efforts hit home personally. Berry, a former principal of Huband Park Elementary, knew Butcher when he was a student there.

Butcher arrived at the elementary school having recently emigrated from the United Kingdom with his parents and his brother.

Berry remembers “a very close knit family who had recently emigrated from England and were starting a new life in the Comox Valley.”

Berry was among 45 people combing the shoreline, hoping to find Butcher alive.

When searches end in tragedy, it’s very hard on the volunteers, Berry said.

“Being close to Christmas makes it even more difficult.”

It’s believed both men were wearing life jackets but Butcher may have taken his off to remove clothing in an effort to make it to shore.

Tree Island is a tidal sandbar next to Denman Island which is popular with campers.

Along with the RCMP West Coast Marine Section Dive Team, the search was assisted by the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria, which deployed three coast guard vessels and a Cormorant helicopter from 19 Wing Comox.