Local search and rescue teams rescued a stranded snowmobiler on Friday, Dec. 22.
The 33 year-old-male became stranded in rough terrain in the Goose Creek area near the Ladybird Creek Forest Service Road at approximately 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 21.
Castlegar RCMP received the call and local search and rescue teams were notified immediately, according to an RCMP press release, but the search had to be postponed until the next day.
“It was too dark and his location was unknown at the time,” explained Gord Ihlen, operations manager for Castlegar Search and Rescue (CSAR). “It was beyond where snowmobiles could go, so we decided to wait until morning. We had an indication that he had, had a fire going, he was in radio contact with his partner and that he was in good health and had some food and water and was able to make it the night.”
At first light CSAR, Rossland Search and Rescue (RSAR) and Grand Forks Search and Rescue (GFSAR) went in after him.
“We did a two-pronged approach: we sent a ground team in by snowmobile with skiers and we also sent in a helicopter team,” said Ihlen. “The helicopter team wasn’t able to land near the subject, so we had to drop them a couple of kilometres away — our skiers — and they skied in.”
It took three hours for the skiers to reach the stranded man. They found him uninjured but beginning to show signs of hypothermia.
“At that point, they realized that the subject wasn’t in any shape to walk out that three hours — we brought snowshoes in for him…,” said Ihlen. “So we changed our plan and then we called in a long line team from Revelstoke Search and Rescue.”
A long line, or Helicopter External Transportation System (HETS), is a rescue system where the rescuer is suspended at the end of a long line hanging from a helicopter.
The long line team arrived after an hour and a half, picked up the snowmobiler and carried him to the location where a second helicopter was waiting to transport him back to the search and rescue team’s base camp.
“He was seen by ambulance at the base and then released after warm up,” said Ihlen.
The four rescuers who had skied in were also extracted two at a time by the long line team and transported to the second helicopter for a return to the base camp.
Ihlen said the snowmobiler became stranded after becoming separated from his fellow snowmobiler and entering an area he was unfamiliar with.
“And then he got trapped in the terrain,” he said.
Ihlen said it was the snowmobiler’s preparedness that allowed him to survive overnight.
“We want to praise him for having the right equipment. He had Pieps [beacon], probe, shovel. He was prepared to stay overnight. He had the right equipment: matches, extra food and stuff like that. So that’s really what saved his life,” said Ihlen. “Had he not been able to light a fire and have some warm food in him, he probably would have frozen overnight.”
For those who’d like to learn more about how to be properly prepared in the backcountry, local search and rescue teams have an event coming up.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, RSAR, along with CSAR and GFSAR, will host Avalanche Awareness Day at Red Mountain Resort from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The event offers the opportunity for outdoor and backcountry enthusiasts to learn how to use beacons, shovels and probes, and what to do in the event of an avalanche.