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Seven bodies found in hunt for snowmobilers
Published Monday, December 29, 2008 8:48PM PST
Police say seven bodies have been recovered from the scene of two avalanches that struck 11 snowmobilers in southeastern B.C. on Sunday morning.
The seven bodies are being removed from the scene by helicopter. One man is still unaccounted for, and the search for him is expected to resume on Tuesday morning, assuming that conditions in the area are deemed to be sufficiently safe.
Three other members of the group had dug themselves out Sunday and walked to safety after the back-to-back avalanches.
The three sustained minor injuries and were taken to hospital.
Two were discharged, while the third was kept overnight for observation.
Police had said earlier Monday that they still had hope for the men, all in their mid-20s and from nearby Sparwood, a community of just 3,600.
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.
Fifteen trained volunteers covered the site with the assistance of two RCMP police dogs and handlers trained in avalanche rescue operations.
"The immediate families of most of the victims are all congregated together in support of each other. I believe they all expect the worst," said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Faulkner.
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 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 when automated distress calls were received from communications devices worn by the snowmobilers.
A helicopter was 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.
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".
With files from The Canadian Press