Stewart avalanche victim identified

An avalanche 65 km north of Stewart yesterday killed Pat Desmarais

THE BC Coroners Service has confirmed the identity of a man who died as the result of an avalanche near Stewart on Oct. 23, 2012.

He was Pat Lawrence Desmarais, aged 50, of Telkwa.

What appears to be a routine surveying job turned tragic when an avalanche 65 km north of Stewart claimed the life of Desmarais.

He was working in a remote area near Sulphurets Creek as a surveyor for a sub-contractor of Seabridge Gold when the avalanche struck him and another colleague late afternoon on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

The avalanche carried Desmarais and swept him off the 300-meter cliff, while the other man was unharmed. This is the first avalanche death of the year.

“From my understanding it was surveying type work, in the exploratory stages, taking GPS coordinates,” said Barb McLintock, who speaks for the coroner’s office.

“I think the problem arose in a sense because they were on a really steep slope doing surveillance work … the problem was the steepness of the slope, so that when this avalanche did hit the unfortunate fellow who died ended up being carried down the slope.

“The other guy managed to get out of the way of the avalanche in time to not be carried down the slope,” she said, noting that he was not injured.

Avalanche technicians and search crews close to the area assisted in the search and located the victim. Desmarais was then taken by plane to Stewart, she said.

“In the end we decided we’re not going to actually send the coroner [physically] in because in fact people from the mine had gone in and moved the body and got it out last night, so there’s really no scene left,” she said.

A mines ministry inspector, in charge of health and safety for mining operations, is also involved and has been working with the RCMP, she said.

“This will require a lot of investigation to find out what was going on and whether anybody could reasonably have anticipated this,” said McLintock.

“It’s very early for an avalanche death,” she said, noting that last year’s first avalanche death happened in mid-November.

“On the other hand, there’s so much country up there where there are no people, maybe there are a thousand avalanches every October only one never met a human before,” she said. “We don’t really know.”

Seabridge Gold issued a statement early this afternoon.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague, and extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends he leaves behind. This was a tragic event, and our thoughts and prayers are with them all at this difficult time,” said Rudi Fronk, Seabridge Gold’s Chairman and CEO.