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Bodies of B.C. helicopter crash victims recovered from mountain, heli-skiing company says

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Update: On Monday, authorities confirmed one of the survivors of the crash succumbed to his injuries, bringing the death toll to four. The individual has been identified as a mountain guide from New Zealand, Lewis Ainsworth. The original story follows below. 

The bodies of the three people who were killed in a heli-skiing crash north of Terrace, B.C., on Monday, Jan. 22 were successfully recovered on Sunday, the president of the company announced.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, John Forrest of Northern Escape Heli-Skiing thanked the Terrace Search and Rescue team and the RCMP, who led the mission.

Around 4:15 p.m., the helicopter carrying a group of skiers from Bolzano, Italy, went down in the remote backcountry about 30 kilometres north of Terrace.

They were part of a larger group of 15 from South Tyrol aboard three separate helicopters.

The two other helicopters were able to rescue the four survivors from the wreckage, and they were then taken to hospital with serious injuries.

The bodies of the three victims remained in the mountains for six more days.

“Once our teams rescued the four injured people off the mountain, the helicopter accident site was closed, so we relied on the RCMP, Terrace Search and Rescue and others to take on the important responsibility of recovering those lost,” Forrest wrote.

“We are pleased that today, thanks to the dedication of those groups, the recovery mission of the three individuals has also been completed.”

Family members and Italian media identified the deceased as Heiner 'Junior' Oberrauch, 32, and Andreas Widmann, 35.

Among the survivors were Oberrauch's brother, Jakob Oberrauch, and friends Emilio Zierock and Johannes Peer, according to the Oberrauch family.

The family told CTV News the third unnamed victim was the pilot, and that the fourth injured person was a ski guide on the trip.

According to Mounties, the location where the aircraft went down is only accessible by air, and the weather prevented them from recovering the victims’ remains.

“Poor weather and visibility conditions severely impacted efforts to safely return to the crash site over several days,” Staff Sgt. Kris Clark said in a news release Monday.

The helicopter that crashed belongs to Skyline Helicopters, based in Kelowna, B.C.

Neither the local police, the B.C. Coroners Service, Skyline Helicopters nor Northern Escape have identified the people injured or killed in the crash.

“I know how important it has been for the families to have their loved ones recovered from the mountain. We all wanted this to be done safely and quickly,” Forrest continued.

“The days following the helicopter accident have been filled with grief, and my heart continues to go out to all those impacted and their loved ones.”

The cause of the crash remains under investigation. Both Northern Escape and Skyline Helicopters said they’d work closely with all relevant authorities to get to the bottom of the tragedy. 

‘A moment to share this sorrow’

On Saturday, hundreds of friends and family gathered at the Bolzano Cathedral for a special service to remember Oberrauch and Widmann.

The mass was organized by the men’s families as “a moment to share this sorrow, this pain,” Ciara Curro Dossi, a journalist for Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera told CTV News.

“They are all young people, sons of big families, well-known families here in our country. They chose Canada because they find it paradise for skiing and heli-skiing,” she said.

Dossi said she understands the families’ pain, waiting for their loved-ones’ remains to be retrieved. “I think everybody would like to have a body to cry on. It’s quite difficult to understand why it takes so long,” she said.

Jakob Oberrauch, one of the survivors, described the terrifying aftermath of the crash to Dossi.

“He told that after the crash he saw blood everywhere, he has both legs broken and near him was his brother was dead, Heiner Oberrauch, and on the other side was Andreas Widmann, which is the second of the victims. The third is the pilot of the helicopter,” she recounted.

According to the Oberrauch uncle, an injured Jakob was the one who called for help when the helicopter went down.

He, Zierock and Peer are currently recovering in a Vancouver hospital. The uncle said all three Italians may be able to fly home early this week.

Meanwhile, members of the victims’ families are now in B.C. to claim their loved-ones’ bodies.

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Todd Coyne and Shannon Paterson

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