Search on for eight snowmobilers buried by avalanche
FERNIE, B.C. -- The search is resuming Monday morning for eight snowmobilers who were buried by at least two avalanches in the B.C. Interior on Sunday.
Rescuers flew over the avalanche zone in the Harvey Pass area near Fernie at first light and dropped handheld avalanche bombs onto the slope to stabilize it and prevent further avalanches.
Currently 15 trained volunteer searchers are en-route to the site by helicopter and snow cat to look for survivors.
The searchers are assisted by two RCMP police dogs and handlers trained in avalanche rescue operations.
RCMP Cpl. Andy Veltmeyer said eight men are buried under the snow, and three others dug themselves out and raised the alarm.
Jennifer Henkes, a spokeswoman with the Interior Health Authority, says there were some fatalities, but she couldn't say how many people were killed.
Henkes says the three survivors sustained minor injuries and were taken to hospital.
Two have been discharged already, while the third is in stable condition and was kept overnight for observation.
All 11 snowmobilers involved are men from the nearby town of Sparwood.
According to the RCMP, the incident started when some members from a group of seven snowmobilers were buried by an initial avalanche in the pass -- a popular backcountry snowmobile destination located about 40 km south of Fernie.
A second group of four snowmobilers heard yelling from the area and came to the aid of members from the first group who were in the process of digging out their fellow riders.
They were able to locate one rider, but as they were digging him out from a depth of about three meters a second avalanche came down and buried the entire group.
All of the snowmobilers were wearing avalanche beacons.
Two of the buried riders managed to self-rescue within about 20 minutes. These two used their avalanche beacons to locate a third buried victim who they rescued after an additional 20 minutes of digging.
The surviving group of three assessed the slope stability and their surroundings. They were located in a large bowl with massive cornices ready to come down. Based on their risk assessment of the possibility of a third avalanche, they began walking out.
The Provincial Emergency Program was notified about the event at approximately 2:30 PM (Mountain Time) when automated distress calls were received from communications devices worn by the snowmobilers.
A helicopter was quickly dispatched to the scene that picked up two of the three survivors. The third survivor was transported by ground with the assistance of Fernie Search and Rescue personnel.
Due to the obvious avalanche hazard and growing darkness, the search for survivors had to be postponed until Monday morning.
Approximately 70 cm of new snow has fallen in the mountains surrounding Fernie over the past few days. The Canadian Avalanche Centre is describing the avalanche hazard in this area as "high".
RCMP avalanche-trained police dogs are enroute to the scene.
Two missing snowmobilers found near Vernon
Meanwhile, two snowmobilers who had gone missing near Vernon were found safe on Monday.
It's the second time in four days that search-and-rescue teams have been called out to find overdue snowmobilers in the North Okanagan region.
The latest search began at 11 p.m. Sunday night when the pair were reported overdue.
Teams scoured an area known as Hunter's Range, about 40 kilometres north of Vernon.
Searchers were called to the same area on Boxing Day, when a lone snowmobiler failed to return from an outing.
With files from The Canadian Press