The families of two boys who drowned in Nicola Lake earlier this year have teamed up with the family of another drowning victim to establish an underwater search and recovery society.

The Kingsborough and Wilson families from Langley, which lost Austin, 17, and Brendan, 18, respectively in Nicola Lake in April are heading up the society with Calgary’s Poole family, which lost 59-year-old John in Shuswap Lake 10 days later.

Both families hired Gene and Sandy Ralston, an Idaho-based couple, to search for and recover their loved ones using sonar equipment more sophisticated in deep water searches than that available to RCMP. The Ralstons’ volunteer efforts have recovered about 90 bodies since 1999.

“Once we learned about what the Ralstons are doing and the relief and closure that it brought to us, we said we have to carry this work forward,” Legacy Water Search and Recovery Society director and co-founder Scott Lebus said. “The Ralstons can’t go on forever, obviously.”

The society, which was incorporated on June 17, is hoping to start operations as early as next summer.

Lebus said the society’s goal is not to say no to any family that needs assistance, and will provide the service for free. Private companies charge as much as $30,000 a day for a side scan sonar search.

“We’ve said that we are not going to say no to anyone,” Lebus said. “We are just going to be limited by what the authorities will let us do. Anywhere in Canada that calls us and we’re able to get there and get volunteers organized, we’ll go.”

Now that it’s registered, the society’s next step is fundraising about $350,000 for its own sonar equipment.

“Now we’re researching equipment and costs, and we’re getting into the community to talk about this issue and fundraise,” Lebus said.

The group is starting fundraising with two memorial golf tournaments, including the For the Boys Memorial Golf Tournament in Langley for the Nicola Lake victims. The other, the John Poole Memorial Golf Tournament, takes place in Calgary. Both events are slated for September.

However, the society isn’t starting from scratch on its fundraising. It has about $3,500 in seed money from a local fundraiser in May held at the Grand Pub and Grill.

Lebus said Merritt and the Nicola Valley will always be a big part of the society’s legacy.

“The first donation we got was from a pub there. We have a real connection to Merritt and we really appreciate what the community has done for us,” he said. “With the Wilson family cabin being near Merritt and the connection to Merritt we have, I think we’ll probably try to use Merritt as our training area. And obviously, if this tragedy affects Merritt, we’ll be there,” Lebus added.

Society directors have also informally discussed working with Nicola Valley Search and Rescue.

Lebus said they’re looking at a volunteer team of about 10 to 15 trained boat drivers and sonar operators as it takes three people for any given search operation.

Donations and more information can be found at

About 45 people have drowned in B.C. waters this summer so far.