Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-12-07
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Rogers Pass
State: BC
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 5 skiers caught, 4 injured, 1 dead

Avalanche kills skier, injures four more

Wednesday 8 December 1999

Scott Crowson, Joe Bachmier, Calgary Herald

One skier is dead and four others injured after being swept up in a wall of

snow that rumbled down a mountain in B.C.'s Glacier National Park.

The 400-metre-wide slide occurred on the west shoulder of Mt. MacDonald, in

a popular back-country skiing area.

No names were available at press time, but all were believed to be B.C.

residents. The wardens' office in Rogers Pass was notified at 12:35 p.m.

Tuesday that several skiers were caught

in an avalanche, said Pat Dunn, outreach officer with Parks Canada.

"There were nearly 30 skiers out on the mountain, so it's fortunate that

more people were not hurt," Dunn said.

The five skiers were found within half an hour, Dunn said. The survivors

were lifted out by helicopter.

The most seriously injured victim was taken to hospital in Calgary

suffering broken arms, broken legs, internal and head injuries. The rest

were transported by ambulance to the

Revelstoke hospital.

Dunn said rescuers were concerned there might be more people buried in the

snow, so the search continued. Two rescue dogs were brought in from Lake

Louise and Jasper. Rescuers

later determined they had accounted for all involved in the slide.

Eric Dafoe, park warden and incident commander, estimated the avalanche at

400 metres wide. He said there was a fracture at the top of the ridge and

the snow came rushing down

several gullies.

"It was a very large slide path," he said. "Fortunately the snow wasn't

that deep."

Dafoe and two others happened to be doing some avalanche control training

nearby when he noticed the "dust cloud."

They were at the site within minutes. They saw one survivor walking around

and two others on the surface of the snow. Two members of the ski party

couldn't be located. Several other

people on the slope, who had narrowly avoided the avalanche, helped in the

rescue. This included 10 members of the Canadian Avalanche Association on a

training session.

"To find people under the snow, you look for clues, like ski tracks going

into the slide path, ski poles on the surface," Dafoe said.

Overnight conditions had been cold and clear, Dafoe said, but intense

sunshine warmed the slope during the half hour prior to the avalanche.

"We have sort of predicted something like this would happen," Dafoe said.

"There has been a huge increase of people skiing and snowboarding here in

recent years. They are going into

steeper terrain and more remote locations."

Avalanches are a constant danger in the park, so ski areas are given daily

hazard ratings. The danger ratings are low, moderate, considerable and

extreme. Dunn said the avalanche

danger in the zone where the slide struck had been posted Tuesday morning

as "considerable."

It was the first avalanche accident on the mountain, Dunn said.

In recent years, an average of 15 people have died annually in Canada in

avalanche-related accidents, said Evan Manners, manager of the Canadian

Avalanche Centre in Revelstoke,

B.C.

He said warming conditions and a clear sky may have played a role in

Tuesday's avalanche. "When you have a warm sunny day like today, it will

affect the upper layer of the snow pack.

That will often lead to the surface layer becoming unstable."

December has the second highest incidence of avalanches.

Three people in the Rocky Mountains were killed by avalanches last season

including University of Calgary student Susanna Donald, who died Nov. 14,

1998, while skiing at Yoho

National Park; Michel Trudeau, son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau,

who died the same month at Kokanee Lake; and U.S. skier Jeremy McIntyre who

was killed near Lake

Louise in January.