Avalanche update: Body of B.C. snowshoer found by rescuers
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2019 8:37AM PST Last Updated Wednesday, February 20, 2019 3:05PM PST
The body of a snowshoer swept away by an avalanche Monday morning has been located, rescuers say.
Remi Michalowski, a 39-year-old from Surrey, had been hiking in a backcountry area near Seymour when the avalanche struck. His friend managed to survive by holding on to a tree, and was rescued by long-line several hours later, but Michalowski's whereabouts remained unknown until Wednesday.
His body was found a few hours after a search led by North Shore Rescue resumed, and was brought back to an NSR base by long-line.
Michalowski's family was waiting for him.
The family wanted to be as close to Michalowski as possible, so NSR gave them access to the search and rescue station. Search manager Greg Miller went to the station in the morning to be with them during the search.
He was there when they learned what happened.
"It's devastating. It's the worst thing for a mother to hear, it's the worst thing for a husband or a wife or a girlfriend to hear… it's very, very hard," Miller said.
Crews headed into the remote area between Runner Peak and Mount Elsay at around sunrise, aided by two helicopters overhead and avalanche search dogs on the ground.
During the mission, which they believed was one of recovery, they consulted with members of the Canadian Avalanche Association.
The backcountry parts of Mount Seymour Provincial Park were closed during the search to help preserve the scene.
Although the weather was better on Wednesday, crews still faced dangerous conditions in the backcountry area. There were concerns the warmer weather and sun could lead to further avalanche activity.
The complex search began Monday morning, but was called off when it got dark. It was suspended Tuesday due to weather conditions that would have made it too dangerous for crews to enter the remote area where the avalanche happened.
His mother and sister were emotional Tuesday, saying they'd believed the team was specifically trained for these types of missions.
“They stop too short, they stop too early,” Michalowksi’s mother Lidia Majerski said Tuesday after meeting with RCMP and North Shore Rescue.
Miller said the reaction is not uncommon.
"It's hard for people who don't know about the backcountry, who don't know the hazards that are out there - just what we have to face when we go in. It's always hard for family when we say that if we can't access a site (like what happened Tuesday). They can hear it but it's hard to have that land," he said.
The family will be supported by victim services as they have since the beginning, Miller said.
Michalowski is described by family as an avid outdoorsman. When the engineering student wasn't studying, they said, he was out in the mountains.
"I think in this situation, they got caught in something that was really hard to predict. The local predictions didn't talk about the potential for avalanches as big as what we've seen. We were even surprised," Miller said.
"But that's the way the backcountry is. It is unpredictable, even if the avalanche danger is low, it just means the probability is low. Avalanches can still happen, as happened the other day."
Unfortunately, Michalowski was not using an avalanche transceiver at the time, which made the search more complicated. However, an item found in the snow helped guide their efforts.
"There's one ice-axe that we did note on Monday that is lying on the surface. It's an indication obviously that someone's been there and it is the subject's that we're looking for… but it's not a good indication as to where he is," NSR's Peter Haigh said Wednesday morning.
Earlier this week, NSR was able to rescue Michalowski’s friend during a brief break in the weather. He had grabbed onto a tree as the avalanche swept Michalowski away.
Using a long-line from a helicopter, a pair of rescuers was able to reach the man within hours of the avalanche, and lift him to safety.
He received no physical injuries and expressed his gratitude to NSR in a brief interview with CTV News Monday.
Miller said those involved in the search were happy they were able to save the man, but saddened by Michalowski's death.
This is a developing news story and will be updated throughout the day.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Ben Miljure