Tue, Jan 13, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Canada avalanches kill one, another missing, police say


A snowmobiler was believed dead and another was missing in separate avalanches in western Canada, police said, just weeks after eight snowmobilers died elsewhere in British Columbia.

In each case, survivors had to make the agonizing decision to abandon their own rescue attempts to get help.

Police said the latest fatality occurred on Sunday as a group of 14 snowmobilers were hit by an avalanche in a remote mountainous area northeast of Prince George — about 800km northeast of Vancouver.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Constable Craig Douglass said two of three riders covered by tonnes of snow were able to free themselves, but the third person is believed to be dead.

“Two were dug out successfully without injury I believe, and the third was believed to be deceased by those that dug him out,” he said.

“They had to leave the deceased behind and work their way back to their vehicles,” he said.

About an hour before the Chetwynd avalanche, another rumbled down Mara Mountain near Enderby in the province’s interior, leaving one of three snowmobilers missing.

Police were notified of an emergency beacon shortly after 1pm local time, Vernon RCMP spokesman Gordon Molendyk said.

“Shortly after, two other snowmobilers who were out made contact and said they had been involved in an avalanche and they had to leave one of their companions behind,” Molendyk said.

Search-and-rescue teams scoured the area for several hours but called off their efforts as night fell, Molendyk said.

There have been 11 people killed in avalanches in the British Columbia backcountry in the past several weeks, including one that buried eight snowmobilers late last month near Fernie.

In that case, three others in the group had to leave their friends behind because of the risk of more avalanches.

Last week, an avalanche near Terrace, British Columbia, in the northern part of the province, killed a US snowboarder who was freed from the snow but later died in hospital.

And a pair of separate avalanches at Whistler Blackcomb — the first on New Year’s Eve and then another on New Year’s Day — left two people dead. Both victims at the resort were in out-of-bounds areas.

The Canadian Avalanche Center has had warnings in place for some time for most of southern British Columbia, including in the area of Sunday’s avalanche.

The latest incident comes as the center mounts a public awareness campaign about the dangers of avalanches and the importance of heeding its warnings.

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