Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2001-02-13
Submitted By: Frank W. Baumann
Place: Thunder Meadows, Near Fernie Alpine Resort
State: BC
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 2
Summary: 13 skiers caught, 2 injured, 2 killed

Synopsis:

1. a party of 13 skiers from Sweden and Denmark were backcountry skiing near Fernie ski resort in southeastern B.C. on Tuesday, February 13, 2001. The group were temporary residents of Fernie, in Canada for the ski season.

2. as they crossed a shallow gully at about 2 pm, a soft slab that had started in new snow far above them came down and hit 5 of the group who were in the gully. The slide was only about 20 m wide but travelled over 300 vertical metres down the shallow draw.

3. the slide completely buried two skiers, and partially buried 3 others.

4. the partially buried skiers were quickly located and suffered only minor injuries.

5. the fully buried skiers were wearing avalanche transceivers but were dead when found, probably as a result of trauma. There has as yet been no report on how long it took to find the missing skiers.

6. it took several hours to alert rescue personnel about the accident and bring in help. A helicopter was able to reach the scene just before dark and bring out the two injured skiers; only one was kept in hospital overnight.

7. guides from a nearby lodge were able to reach the accident scene by 10 pm, carrying blankets and other supplies. They then spent the night with the survivors. Everyone was then airlifted out to Fernie hospital early Thursday (February 14) morning.

8. the victims are two sisters from Denmark, aged 26 and 24 years old.

This story can be viewed at:

www.sterlingnews.com

Survivors Request Privacy After Release From Hospital

By Naomi McCannan

FERNIE - As nine avalanche survivors recover in Fernie District Hospital Wednesday afternoon, the sleepy little mountain

town and its residents are in shock over Tuesday's snowy

disaster.

The fatal avalanche, which took the lives of swedish sisters Anna Alberts, 26 and her sister Malin, 24, is the first of its kind in

Fernie for over a decade, according to many long time Fernie residents.

John McAulay, CEO of the Elk Valley and South Country Health Council said it is amazing there were no major injuries.

"There was very little trauma," he said Wednesday morning. "But now they've had a chance to warm up after a cold night on

the mountain and the emotional trauma has started. They now realize two of their friends have died and it's becoming very hard

for them."

To help with the stress of the situation the hospital has brought in a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team made up of

counselors, residents and church pastors. The team are speaking with the friends and survivors about the avalanche and offering

grief counselling.

The avalanche, which occurred in an area known as Liverwurst Shoot, is located in the Thunder Meadows area approximately

two-and-a-half kilometres from Fernie Alpine Resort's Lizard Bowl ski area.

The two Stockholm women were eventually dug out by their ski companions. The entire group was not found until three hours

later. Police say it is still fuzzy as to how the emergency call was made.

According to Fernie RCMP Sgt. Steve Robertson, almost all of the skiers were fully equipped with probes and personal

transmitters.

Reporters were not allowed to speak to the survivors, out of respect for the situation, but McAulay said the survivors will have

the option to speak following their discharge from the hospital.

The avalanche, which occurred around 2 pm Tuesday afternoon, swept 13 Europeans --12 from Sweden, one from Denmark

-- up in its wrath. Two survivors were brought down that evening by helicopter. The other nine spent the night on the mountain

with two professional ski guides from Island Lake Lodge and a ski patroller from Fernie Alpine Resort.

"Under the circumstances, the group faired well with a fire and calm weather overnight," Robertson said.

With the assistance of local search and rescue and two Fernie helicopter companies the remaining nine were flown to hospital

early the next morning.

John Birrell, president of Island Lake Lodge was one of the rescue coordinators and said everything went as smooth as

expected.

"Everybody responded quite quickly once they knew something was going on," Birrell said. "It was a difficult spot to get to and

there wasn't enough time to do very much last night because of the shortness of light.

"Fortunately there's a lot of people who do the good neighbour thing here in town and everybody helps one another out and all

the different. companies and expertise are willing to jump in and help out and that certainly helps."

The survivors are expected to be released from hospital sometime today.

"Of course it really depends," McAulay said. "Each person reacts differently. We have to provide support for those victims for

as long as they need it."

Chopper pilot aids in avalanche rescue

By Steven Heywood

FERNIE - Helicopter pilot Greg Goodison received the call to help rescue victims of Tuesday's fatal

avalanche near Fernie at 5:30 pm that evening.

Goodison says his first contact was with Sue Boyd of the Fernie Alpine Resort ski patrol, who informed

him of what had happened.

"It sounds like one skier skied out and got a cell phone to call it in," Goodison says, adding he saw the

avalanche path itself.

"The avalanche was narrow, through a narrow gully," he explains. "I'm not sure what (the group of skiers) had as far as

resources."

Both his company, Bighorn Helicopters, and Canadian Helicopters were involved in the search and rescue operation Tuesday

night and Wednesday morning. Goodison says he made two trips that evening to pull out two members of the party, including

one who had been injured, and drop off Robin Siggers.

Siggers is the pro ski patroller at Fernie Alpine Resort. Goodison says Siggers went in to stay the night with the remaining nine

survivors, until choppers could fly again in the morning.

Goodison says Siggers was joined by two pro guides from the nearby Island lake Lodge cat skiing resort. He says a cat was

used to bring the guides as close as possible. However, he adds it took the guides another two-and-a-half the three hours to

ski to the scene, arriving at approximately 10 pm.

As darkness fell, Goodison says he had no choice but to put down for the night.

"You don't want to be flying in there at night," he says. "We stayed up until it was too dark to fly."

Goodison, an experienced pilot with air rescue training, says the weather, while it may have been cold for the survivors

overnight, was clear with not a lot of wind.

"There was no trouble flying in and out of there."

He adds the guides and ski patroller managed to clear out underbrush from the area, a short distance form the avalanche path,

enabling the helicopters to land and remove the remaining survivors.

After everyone was evacuated, Goodison says he made another trip to help remove the two deceased skiers, two females in

their 20s from Sweden. Both, he adds, had been buried by snow but could not comment on the extent. Names have not yet

been released.

Goodison has been called out to help with rescue operations in the past, both in and around Fernie and in his former postings.

"Luckily, it hasn't happened too often."

Two skiers killed in avalanche

FERNIE - Two people are dead following an avalanche Tuesday afternoon in the Thunder Meadows area

of the Lizard Range Mountains.

According to Sgt. Steve Robertson of the Fernie RCMP, a group of 13 people -- 12 from Sweden and

one from Denmark -- were back country skiing when the avalanche struck at around 2 pm.

Emergency personnel reached the group by helicopter a few hours later and were able to bring two

survivors down. Nine others could not be brought out due to darkness. According to public relations

officer for Fernie Alpine Resort Melody Kultgen, FAR ski patrol did assist with the rescue and were

brought in to offer support and bring supplies.

Two professional ski guides from nearby Island Lake Lodge and one pro ski patroller from the ski resort

remained on the scene overnight with survivors. All were airlifted out to Fernie District Hospital

Wednesday morning, and were being checked out for exposure. The deceased were also airlifted out

shortly after.

Fernie RCMP report the group have been residing in Fernie since the start of the winter season.

The RCMP and coroner's office are continuing to investigate. Identities of the deceased will not be

released until the next of kin are notified, however police are stating the two victims are females from

Sweden in their 20s.