by LAURA KEIL
Five people were killed in an avalanche in the Renshaw area near McBride Friday afternoon, the area’s largest fatal avalanche in recent memory according to Village Counc. Rick Thompson who’s been in McBride 18 years.
The McBride RCMP is currently coordinating the rescue and recovery operation of a number of snowmobilers who were involved in the fatal avalanche.
On Friday at around 1:30 pm, the McBride RCMP was notified of two separate GPS beacon activations in the Renshaw area just East of McBride, BC. The McBride RCMP dispatched the Robson Valley Search and Rescue Team via helicopter and ground teams. Two SAR technicians were on scene almost immediately as they were snowmobiling in the area just prior to the slide occurring.
Throughout the afternoon, SAR Technicians assisted with the rescue of several snowmobilers belonging to at least three separate groups that were caught in the slide. SAR technicians also tended to the search for suspected buried persons in the slide.
As of 6:00 pm the McBride RCMP is able to confirm that 5 snowmobilers are deceased and have been recovered from the avalanche area. Several snowmobiling groups were in the area at the time. Efforts by the RCMP and SAR are continuing in making a determination that all other snowmobilers that were in the area are accounted for. RCMP say 6 to 8 other snowmobilers lost snowmobiles in the avalanche and are being shuttled off of the mountain. The McBride RCMP is being assisted with resources from the Valemount RCMP. The BC Coroners Service is also attending.
Prince George Peace River MP Bob Zimmer tweeted “Thoughts and prayers go out for the families of the 5 who lost their lives today in the avalanche outside of McBride. So sad.”
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond tweeted “Tragic, so very sad about the loss of 5 lives. Thank you to our first responders, RCMP, search and rescue teams.”
A member of the off-road vehicle forum Snowandmud.com said the accident occurred “on the big drop” “when you’re heading towards Spirit lake.”
Another snowmobile forum member wrote: “Very sad news lost a buddy. Would never think him or his group would be in one, very safe riders and have the training very sad, my best goes to his family.”
Bryce Glionna was snowmobiling in the Renshaw area last weekend, one of his favourite areas to ride. He said last weekend conditions seemed OK in the lower alpine areas.
“I did however see a couple steep slopes where the snow had let go,” he added. “Mostly higher areas where the sun shines on the hill most of the day.”
Last weekend, his riding group planned to to where the slide occurred on Friday – but one person had sled problems, so they didn’t.
He says the area is popular with sledders due to the vast area.
“It allows for everyone to ride and not usually have to worry about other groups or the problem that the snow is all tracked out. Usually with some exploring you can find snow.”
McBride RCMP anticipates that an update will be possible early Saturday afternoon regarding the progress of the search and recovery.
In separate incident Jan. 23rd, an avalanche took the life of a snowmobiler in the Torpy Mountain range, northeast of Prince George. A group of five snowmobilers were riding in the remote mountain area when one of them was swept away in an avalanche.
Avalanche Canada reports the avalanche risk for the Cariboos as considerable at alpine elevations. They also recommended caution in the Northern Rockies region (Mt. Renshaw is located north of McBride in the Northern Rockies region). They said they received a report of “what is described as a very large, significant avalanche” near McBride which “appears to have been human triggered.”
Both McBride and Valemount have had rain over the past week. Mild temperatures over the past couple weeks may have contributed to poor snow conditions.
The rescue comes just days after the Province announced $10 milion in additional funding for search and rescue team ground operations.
More details to come as they are released.
Read our profile here of a local company trying to spread avalanche awareness among sledders.