Grieving parents thankful search has finally ended
by Laura MacLean - Wednesday, May 3, 2006
After spending the last three weeks searching the Muskoka River, Greg and Jean Rapson were finally relieved of their burden this past Friday when Kathleen “Katie” Gough, their 27-year-old daughter, was recovered from the bottom of Balsam Chutes near Port Sydney.
After a pontoon boat carrying five passengers capsized over the rapids in the early morning hours of April 9, an extensive search had been ongoing to find Katie, who was the only passenger to remain missing. The body of 47-year-old Cora Gunby was found on the day of the incident, and the three men aboard the pontoon were able to swim safely to shore.
“She was found laying against a tree at the bottom of the rapids,” stated Greg Rapson, who was Katie's step-father, but referred to her as his “real daughter.” “We recovered her from almost exactly where the accident happened.”
After three days of extensive searching in the Muskoka River, the OPP marine unit officially called off the search and presumed Katie drowned. However, the Coldwater couple swore they would not rest until their daughter's body was found. With family members, a certified diver and close friends, as well as area residents and cottagers combing the area every day, Katie's body was finally found on April 28 at approximately 3 p.m. and recovered from the water at 6 p.m.
“I don't think he was in the water for seven minutes and he found her,” said Greg with regards to diver Brian Knight, who first saw Katie's body at the bottom of Balsam Chutes.
He said upon searching the rapids, Knight had experienced difficulty staying underwater when an unexpected rush in the current sent him shooting out of the water sideways. Luckily, he had found a battery pack at the bottom of the rapids, which he used as a weight to keep himself under.
“It was a very emotional thing to experience when Brian came up and waved his hand that he had found her,” explained Greg. “The whole situation didn't seem real until that point.”
Immediately after Katie's body was found, Greg said a call was placed to 911. Although Knight had found her, he had not yet brought Katie to the surface. Officers attended the scene, and to Greg and Jean's dismay they were informed the OPP's diving unit was in Windsor at the time responding to another drowning. The Rapsons were told that Katie's body would not be recovered from the water until later in the evening.
“They [OPP] told me they don't dive at night but they would make an exception. I said, `I'll tell you what, if her body isn't where it is now, there will be some repercussions.' I mean, we had searched every day for three weeks from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and finally we found her. They did shake our hands and told us they were family men, too. But maybe they should change their policy for circumstances like this.”
Greg said it was decided to obey the officers' orders, until Jean stated she would not leave the premises without her daughter. The choice was made to bring Katie to the surface. Jean said friends Paul Gray, Tony Moffat, her brother Doug Watts and her father Peter Harvey “would go over and bring her home.”
“They said it would be an honour to do that for Katie,” stated Jean.
While Greg and Jean are finally able to rest knowing that their daughter has been found, words cannot express their sincere gratitude to everyone who contributed to the search for Katie.
“It was just incredible... People just kept coming to help us,” said Greg. “Cottagers and homeowners on the river opened their homes to us. Ladies brought us food. Some people who lived near where we were stationed had a small cottage they were remodeling and actually told us, `This is yours, your can stay here.' It really renewed my faith in humanity.”
Greg said he also sends his deepest thanks to Tim Lee, an engineer with the Ministry of Natural Resources, who assisted in placing logs over the Mary Lake Dam to bring the water level down and slow the current.
And while Greg and Jean only have the memories of their daughter to keep alive, Greg assures the memories he has of Katie are happy ones.
“She was a family girl. She loved to fish, snowmobile and hunt. She qualified one of the horses we have to go to the Youth World Show in Texas two years in a row. She talked to her mother every day four times a day.”
Katie grew up in Coldwater and moved to Severn Bridge three years ago to live with her boyfriend. She was employed at the Orillia Volkswagen dealership.
She leaves behind her parents, Greg and Jean, her two sisters Deni and Nikki and her brother Jeff.
“She was the happiest girl I knew,” stated Greg. “She was always smiling and giggling. She wasn't just our daughter, she was our friend.”
Originally published at
Balsam Chutes June 6th 2006
Click On the Bible (below) to view Katie's Candles and messages