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Pass emergency workers lead the way to successful backcountry rescue

Wednesday, 17 January 2018. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Pass emergency workers lead the way to successful backcountry rescue
Pass emergency workers lead the way to successful backcountry rescue

By Shannon Robison

Crowsnest Pass Fire/Rescue led search-and-rescue efforts when a snowmobiler was reported missing on Jan. 7.

A group of four were recreating in the Tent Mountain area near the Alberta-British Columbia border when contact was lost with one of the riders after he became separated from the group.

The person in trouble, a male in his early 40s, was from the Lethbridge area. He was riding a snow bike — a dirt bike with a ski on front and a snowmobile track on back.

Fire Chief Jesse Fox says the man purposely rode down an embankment around 6:30 p.m. and the rest of the group lost contact with and sight of him.

He says RCMP were contacted around 9 p.m., with Fire/Rescue formally contacted at midnight. A search-and-rescue operation was activated at this time.

“Up until that point, they were hoping the missing person would walk out,” Chief Fox says. “There was no active searching going on for this person at that time.”

Thirteen members of Fire/Rescue were involved in the operation. They met with RCMP and developed a plan.

Three trained and qualified personnel were sent out in a side-by-side to search the backcountry in the dark. 

“It was a very complicated search procedure because it was the middle of the night and it was pitch black out, and they were in a high-risk location with an avalanche threat,” Chief Fox says.

Having no contact with the missing person, nothing was pinpointed and searchers had only a rough idea of where to look in the hazardous darkness.

“There was a lot of involvement from supporting agencies in this challenging operation,” says Chief Fox.

This included assistance from RCMP, Pincher Creek Search and Rescue, Sparwood Search and Rescue and members of the CrowSnow Riders.

Searchers worked through the night and a helicopter was ordered to enhance efforts in the morning.

When daylight broke at 8:33, air support from Sparwood Search and Rescue did a flyover of the rider’s last known location and found him.

Chief Fox says the man was underneath his snow bike and it was determined he had been involved in a Type 1 avalanche (the lowest level of avalanche).

“He was in good condition, but just cold,” Chief Fox says. “He got a lucky day for it, being plus 3.”

“It was a good-news story for us,” he adds. “It was a successful operation where we had a good outcome, where none of our people got hurt.

“It proves the need for people to be prepared and know what to do if something goes wrong if they want to recreate in our backcountry.”

To find detailed conditions, avalanche warnings and other backcountry resources, visit www.avalanche.ca.