'Code Alpha': Hiker rescued, second missing after avalanche near Seymour
One hiker has been rescued but a second is missing after being hit by an avalanche in the B.C. backcountry Monday morning, a search and rescue manager says.
Two men had been overnight hiking in a remote area near Mount Seymour, between Runner Peak and Mount Elsay. At about 10 a.m., first responders received a distress call from the area.
North Shore Rescue search manager Greg Miller told CTV News they were told the men were on their way back when they got caught in an avalanche.
"He stopped himself by grabbing onto a tree. His friend has gone somewhere further down, he's no longer in sight of his friend," Miller said.
The man who'd grabbed the tree was able to call out and has a spot beacon, so he was able to send a distress call.
Crews were able to locate a hiker by Monday afternoon, and due to a brief break in the clouds, were able to reach him by long-line.
The rescue, captured from CTV's Chopper 9, involved two NSR members being lowered into a clearing near the treed area where the hiker stood. Once harnessed, all three were lifted into the air by the line dangling from NSR's helicopter.
The group was let down gently, and the uninjured hiker was seen walking into a nearby building.
The rescued hiker, who did not want to be publicly identified, thanked those who'd aided in the search.
"They're doing a killer job… Everybody here killed it. They kept in correspondence with me and they made this part (speaking to media) as easy as it can be," he said.
"They're still looking for him so I don't want to say too much because we're still holding out hope that everybody's going to be OK."
He did not want to talk about what happened in the hours that preceded his rescue. He said he was leaving to be with his family.
Crews spent the afternoon trying to find his friend in what Miller described as a dangerous area, but the search was called off for the night shortly before 6 p.m.
"There's still - it's called hang-fires, snow hanging up above the area we want to search - it makes it too dangerous for our members," Miller said.
Volunteers will regroup and come up with a new plan Tuesday morning, Miller said.
A day of search efforts
Before the search was suspended, experts from Whistler were asked to fly in and drop explosives on the area to release the hanging snow.
On Monday morning, NSR posted they were responding to a "possible Code Alpha" – a term used for a plan in place for rescue operations involving subjects buried in an avalanche.
A helicopter was dispatched, but the cloud cover is thick around the peaks, so the pilot was not able to reach the hikers Monday morning.
Meanwhile, a group mobilized on the ground. The plan was for volunteers to ride up as far as they can with snowmobiles then make the rest of the journey on foot.
Everyone involved in the search has avalanche training and is equipped with beacons, shovels and gear. They're also accompanied by terrain experts and have requested avalanche dogs from Whistler.
"There are several places that could have potentially high avalanche hazard," Miller said.
They made it to Tim Jones Peak, about half way up to where the hikers were known to be, but had to stop because of avalanche danger. Miller initially said they'd wait overnight if needed then continue when conditions improve, but said later that group had been called back down.
"Right now we don't have anyone out there other than the helicopters because we don't want anyone on the ground when we're doing explosive work," he said.
"Then it's just a matter of how much time we have. It's a lot faster to fly people in… Hopefully we can find that second subject."
Reminder to check the conditions
Anyone heading out into backcountry is always advised to check conditions on Avalanche Canada's website before going uphill.
As of Monday, the danger rating for alpine and treeline levels was rated as "moderate" on B.C.'s South Coast. However, the site warned there was a lingering concern that steep and concave areas could be dangerous.
"Use caution above cliffs and terrain traps where small avalanches may have severe consequences," the site said.
"Use caution on open slopes and convex rolls. The new snow may require several days to settle and stabilize."
With files from CTV Vancouver's Ben Miljure and Gary Barndt