EVERY 911 call for Search and Rescue potentially risks the safety of volunteers and pilots flying support helicopters or planes, particularly in B.C.’s mountainous regions. Do users of the outdoors give any thought to that risk before they head out ill prepared in case something goes wrong?
Judging from the Terrace Standard’s report of an October 5 incident when two men had to be airlifted from the top of Copper Mountain at nightfall, those two hikers didn’t.
“The two men,” reads the report, “at least one dressed only in shorts, had underestimated the climb, and were unprepared for the stormy weather that brought snow to the high elevation.”
Fancy the astonishment of this 21 and 24 year old. Snow at the peak. In October.
We’re talking Copper Mountain here, a peak close and visible from Highway 16 and Thornhill. Locals (one of these men was a local) know that mid September on, this peak may be snow-covered after any overnight rain at ground level.
I picture these two draining an afternoon coffee at Timmie’s when one said to the other, “How about we climb Copper Mountain?”
“Great idea. Let’s go.”
So off they went, attired for tooling around town in a heated SUV, taking no safety precautions beyond a cell phone. No extra clothing. No orange tarp or garbage bag for shelter or signalling. No extra food or water. No compass. No whistle or mirror. No first aid kit. Bet they didn’t even let family or friends know where they were going or when they should return.
The mountain was right in front of them, a few miles from home. No sweat for this plucky pair. Why observe BC SAR groups’ safety rules? “No one ever expects to get into trouble outdoors. But, a turn in the weather, mistake in judgment, unexpected injury, equipment failure, or sudden nightfall can quickly change any recreational outing into a crisis.” These two hikers ticked three risks out of five. Way to go.
They also didn’t check how long the hike normally takes. As darkness encroached, did one say, “Notice it’s getting colder the higher we climb? By the time we reach the peak it could be dark. Maybe we should turn back?”
Probably his companion waved airily. “If we get stuck at the top, we’ll call 911. SAR will give us a helicopter ride down.”
And so these intrepid outdoorsmen kept climbing despite dropping temperature, darkness, rain threatening snow, ignoring common sense.
Did these two consider they were burdening an overworked SARS who had been slogging 14 days through rugged terrain looking for two lost mushroom pickers? Not likely.
At 6:30 they called 911.
The urgency of rescue calls is evaluated by SAR and the RCMP. Is the person alone? Injured? Age – very young or very old. Prepared to wait until daylight for rescue? Risk of injury if they try to make it out alone? Level of risk to SAR rescuers and pilots – mountainous area, winds, clouds, fog, visibility.
This pair wasn’t dressed to spend a 4°C night on the mountain although snow wasn’t evident where the helicopter landed.
A Lakelse Air helicopter was dispatched with two SAR volunteers, and two ATVs each carrying two volunteers. Two hours of helicopter time cost $1950 per hour plus tax. SAR billed the provincial government from $750 to $1000 for its members. Total taxpayers’ bill for this “rescue” $4845. Minimum.
Expect these hikers to cover the full cost and make a SAR donation reflecting the value of their lives. SAR is not a convenient free service for lifting Mom’s stranded two-year old down from a tot lot platform, a practice becoming far too popular.