Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2003-03-14
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Lake Agnes, northwest of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
State: AB
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowshoer caught, buried, and killed




American snowshoer dies near Lake Louise

Cathy Ellis and Mario Toneguzzi

Calgary Herald

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Avalanches in the Canadian Rocky Mountains continue to take a deadly toll and officials are warning people the risk remains high.

Wardens recovered the body of an American backcountry enthusiast Saturday afternoon after he was swept away in a massive avalanche near Lake Louise more than 24 hours earlier.

The man's body was found buried beneath more than two metres of snow and debris above Lake Agnes, a small alpine lake northwest of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

The death is the latest in a string of fatalities caused by avalanches this winter. Sixteen people have died in B.C.'s backcountry since October, including seven Strathcona-Tweeds-muir School students on an outdoor education outing Feb. 1 near Rogers Pass. The youngsters were swept away in a massive slide about 30 kilometres from the site on provincial Crown land where a deadly avalanche Jan. 20 killed three Americans and four Canadians.

And, on Friday, the Trans-Canada Highway in eastern British Columbia was re-opened after a three-day closure caused by avalanches. The highway was reopened after crews cleared away two massive slides between Revelstoke and the Alberta border.

The latest avalanche victim -- a married father of two young children -- had set out on a snowshoeing trip around 5 a.m. Friday, but the alarm that he was missing was not raised until 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

The avalanche danger that day was rated extreme in the alpine and at treeline -- the only time this winter it has reached such dangerous levels in Banff National Park.

"There was very deep debris, over three metres in some places, and it took a lot of probing," said public safety warden Marc Ledwidge. "We found him about 21/2 metres down. We struck him with a probe."

The identity of the man, believed to be from New Mexico, is not being released pending notification of family members.

He and his wife and their two young children, aged two and four, were on vacation in Canada and had been staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

As soon as the alarm was raised, Banff National Park wardens checked the trail for any signs of the missing man, but the search could not continue because of the high avalanche danger. The search resumed at first light, at which time wardens in a helicopter spotted the man's tracks heading into a class 2.5 avalanche just above Lake Agnes.

A class three avalanche is big enough to damage or destroy a car, while a class two is described as being able to bury or injure a skier.

Park wardens, two professional Lake Louise ski patrollers and two dog handlers were immediately brought in, but it took more than three hours to recover the body because of the treacherous avalanche conditions.

Wardens said the steep terrain was so exposed and dangerous they had to deliberately trigger avalanches with explosives before it was safe to continue the search.

They estimate the avalanche occurred around 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. Friday morning. This is the first avalanche fatality in Banff National Park this season.

The current avalanche bulletin says the danger rating is high in both the alpine and treeline areas in the Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks.

Meanwhile, a 62-year-old Lethbridge man has died while skiing with family members at the Castle Mountain Ski Resort in southern Alberta. Police say George Lermer fell into a large chunk of ice, hitting it with his chest and head. CPR was started within minutes by two Calgary doctors, but the doctors, paramedics and ski patrol were not able to revive him.

Cathy Ellis is a reporter with the Rocky Mountain Outlook

? Copyright 2003 Calgary Herald