Avalanche survivor recalls 'gut-wrenching' choice
Jeff Adams, one of the three survivors of Sunday's avalanche which killed eight snowmobilers near Fernie, spoke emotionally Wednesday of the decision to leave the avalanche zone for safety, leaving his friends behind.
"There's a million things going through your head when you have to make that decision," he said.
"It's unexplainable how long it felt [in taking the decision]. I play it all the time in my head."
Adams said the group had not planned to climb the steeper slopes of the mountains that day.
"Our decision was to play in the bottle not climb the walls."
This, he said, was because of what he described as the "strange" weather for this time of year.
When the first avalanche struck, he was buried by eight inches of snow and was able to reach the surface.
"I managed to float almost to the surface. When I opened my eyes I could see daylight," he said, describing how he escaped from the second avalanche.
"I was digging. I managed to get my mouth free. I was already choking. I took a few breaths."
Adams managed to get himself out, and yelled to the others.
He then found his friend Jeremy and spent about 15 minutes digging him out.
The two survivors found another one of their friends named James, but had to hold off on their rescue efforts when more snow fell.
"As we were running away from James, he was saying: 'Don't leave me here. Don't leave me here,'" Adams said.
"We kept saying: 'We're sorry.'"
The two survivors were finally able to get James out.
They could detect a signal from another friend but decided it "was too deep with no equipment to help him."
When they realized it was unsafe to stay where they were, Adams said the surviving men then made "the gut-wrenching decision to leave our eight friends and start walking off the mountain."
He confirmed four avalanches had covered the area.
"The first one was big... the second one that hit us, the avalanche experts say it hit us at 150 mph plus. It was at least 15 feet high," he said.
The biggest was the fourth avalanche, which occurred when the three survivors were walking out. He said it was half a kilometre wide.
The 11 men had been enjoying a day of snowmobiling in the back country when the avalanches struck.
He described the eight men who died as "all good buddies" and outgoing people.
"I'm truly sorry to the families that we couldn't find them."
He said at least three of the men, including himself, had taken avalanche training.
On Tuesday, Adams joined rescuers in their search for the final missing man, Danny Bjarnason.
"It brought a sense of closure when we found him. It was very tough to see the scene to see how deep some of my friends were buried," he said
The victims, all from the small coal-mining town of Sparwood, have been identified as: Bjarnason, 28, Leonard Stier, 40 and his son Mikel Stier, 20, Warren Rothel, 33, Thomas Talarico, 32, Kane Rusnak, 30, Kurt Kabel, 28, and Blayne Wilson, 26.
The bodies of all men but Bjarnason had been recovered on Monday.
Adams said the community had given him a lot of support.
Remembrance services for the eight men who died are expected to take place next week.