A LOCAL snowmobiler is alive today thanks to the quick actions of others who dug him out of an avalanche before noon yesterday just to the north of Kalum Lake north of Terrace.
The discovery of the man, buried about a metre and a half under the avalanche, was like finding a “needle in a haystack,” said Terrace Search and Rescue official Dave Jephson who spoke to the man’s rescuers.
“Unbelievable. There’s no way he should have survived,” said Jephson.
The lone snowmobiler triggered the avalanche while climbing up into an area known as “the chute” on South Douglas Mountain, he said.
Two other individuals were below the avalanche but because of bad visibility had no idea of where the man or his snowmobile may have ended up.
But quickly joined by three others the five, equipped with collapsible poles, began probing to see if they could locate the man.
“Fortunately, these individuals, five young professionals, had the equipment and had the training,” said Jephson.
He described it as a “miracle” that they were able to find the man after about 20-25 minutes of probing given that they had no visual reference.
“They dug him out and cleared his airway. No question. He was blue but the next thing you know, he started talking,” said Jephson’s of the man’s condition as reported by his rescuers.
The man’s snowmobile was uncovered nearby, something also unusual because of the size and force of the avalanche, and the individual then rode back down to his truck, said Jephson.
“I do know that he did go to the hospital to get checked out. He lost a tooth,” he said.
Jephson paid tribute to the five snowmobilers who, he said, decided to mount a search for the man despite knowing there was still snow above them which could have come down.
“They did that at their own risk. It was their actions, their calmness, that found this man,” he said.
Had not the five men been there, the buried snowmobiler would most likely not have been found until spring, said Jephson.
“There would have been a report of a truck in a parking lot below. We would have mobilized to the location, but without a visual reference, where would you then have looked,” he said.
Jephson said the snowmobiler did have an emergency beacon but that it was turned off.
Terrace Search and Rescue was made aware of the avalanche when one of the rescuers set off his own beacon. That triggered a signal via satellite which was relayed to a provincial emergency centre and then to Terrace Search and Rescue.
Within minutes, said Jephson, the rescuers were in text message contact with him.
And within 20 minutes of first contact, 13 people were assembling at Terrace Search and Rescue’s building.
A response would have involved a helicopter as well as ground crews and an avalanche technician who first would have assessed risk factors, said Jephson.
“But what we were hearing is that we could stand down,” he said.