Coroner identifies five Alberta men killed in McBride avalanche
Published Friday, January 29, 2016 6:33PM PST
Last Updated Saturday, January 30, 2016 4:52PM PST
Police in McBride, B.C., say the five people killed in Friday’s fatal avalanche were all men from Alberta, ranging in age from 41 to 55.
The B.C. Coroners Service has identified the men as Vincent Eugene Loewen, 52, of Vegreville; Tony Christopher Greenwood, 41, of Grand Prairie County; Ricky Robinson, 55, of Spruce Grove; Todd William Chisholm, 47, of St. Albert; and John Harold Garley, 49, of Stony Plain.
A total of 17 snowmobilers in four separate groups were on the same mountain in the Renshaw area near McBride -- about 210 kilometres southeast of Prince George -- when the avalanche took place.
The family of one of the victims -- Chisholm -- provided CTV News with the following statement:
"Todd had a passion for sledding in the mountains. He died too young doing what he enjoyed with his sledding buddies. Thanks to the four friends who were with Todd for their efforts. Todd will be sadly missed by his wife of 18 years, children, mother & father, brothers and sister, extended family, friends and community.
Todd enjoyed fishing, hunting, camping and playing games with his children and wife. He also enjoyed music, quading and playing drums with the band. We ask that you give the family the time they need to grieve the loss of their loved one."
Survivors looked shaken as they arrived at McBride's airport Friday, shortly after pulling bodies of fellow snowmobilers from the slide, according to a search and rescue official.
Dale Mason of Robson Valley Search and Rescue said six men were flown by helicopter from the mountain to the airport, where they were met by police and paramedics. Some were injured and had little to say, he said.
“They all had a pretty bad day,” he said. “It's a pretty traumatic event.”
Mason said survivors pulled bodies from the snow before rescue crews arrived. There were three separate groups snowmobiling at the time, so he didn't know how well survivors knew the dead.
“They located and dug them out very quickly. They did an excellent job themselves,” he said.
Asked how difficult it is to extract a body from an avalanche, Mason replied, “It's sort of like shovelling concrete.”
Mason said he had been doing search and rescue work in the area for 30 years and had never seen an avalanche kill so many people.
He described the area where the avalanche occurred as designated snowmobiling backcountry without an in-bounds or out-of-bounds area. He said there was a “considerable” avalanche hazard on Friday and there were warning signs posted at trailheads.
Two separate GPS beacons drew search and rescue teams to the area almost immediately after the avalanche occurred.
Members spent the afternoon rescuing eight snowmobilers, who had become separated from their vehicles during the avalanche. One person was taken to hospital in stable condition, while another injured person declined to go to hospital, said B.C. Ambulance Service.
As of Friday night, Cpl. Dan Moskaluk told CTV News crews believed every rider was accounted for.
Avalanche Canada said recent rainfall and snowfall added to already concerning layers in the snowpack in that and many other areas of the province.
Those conditions, which pose a serious avalanche risk, could take several days to settle. Avalanche Canada urged the public to be cautious over the weekend.
Up-to-date information on conditions is available on the Avalanche.ca website.
Pascal Haegli, Simon Frasier University's research chair in avalanche risk management, told the Canadian Press it's nearly impossible to dig yourself out of an avalanche once you've been buried, and without proper rescue equipment, chances of survival nearly disappear.
“Once the avalanche comes to a stop, it sets like concrete, very quickly,” he said. “It's not the fluffy powder snow you have in mind.”
People should not rely on search and rescue crews in the event of an avalanche, he added.
Haegli said people should make themselves aware of snow conditions, which are distributed daily by Avalanche Canada, before they go into the backcountry.
Karl Klassen, of Avalanche Canada, said Friday that the avalanche appears to have been human-triggered, but he did not elaborate.
Haegli said that he hasn't heard exactly what happened in this case, but that human-triggered avalanches can occur when people disturb different layers of snow, called snowpack. For instance, if a thin layer of icy snow sitting on top of looser snow is disturbed, it can cause all the snow to tumble down.
Moskaluk also urged snowmobilers to take precautions. He advised anybody driving a snowmobile to stick to familiar areas and keep emergency gear, including a shovel, a probe stick and a transceiver, on hand.
Condolences pour in
On Saturday, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Conservative Interim Leader Rona Ambrose both offered their condolences to the victims of the avalanche.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the five who died yesterday in the Renshaw area," Ambrose said in a message on Twitter.
In his own message, Mulcair called the avalanche "heartbreaking."
"My thoughts are with those touched by this tragedy," he said.
Shirley Bond, the MLA for Prince George-Valemount and B.C. Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, also shared her sympathies and thanked the rescue crews for their work.
"This avalanche and the resulting loss of life is devastating news," she said in a statement. "It is a very sad day for all of us."
This was not the first deadly avalanche in the McBride area.
In March, 2015, two Alberta men died while snowmobiling the Dore River Basin.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Edmonton