Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2004-01-30
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Russell Bowl area near Valhalla Provincial Park
State: BC
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 14 people struck, 3 caught and buried, 2 injured, 1 killed.


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Avalanche beacon on dead skiers failed, RCMP say

Nelson Daily News

February 6, 2004

The body of a San Francisco man killed in an avalanche was found buried in 120 cm of debris Thursday, but the emergency beacon he was wearing was not working.

"It looks like there was some kind of equipment failure," said RCMP Constable Heather Macdonald. The device was turned on, had a properly charged battery and was checked by guides.

Searchers were hampered in their efforts to find Michael Duffy, 36, because they couldn't detect a signal from the beacon. He was with a group of 15 skiers and snowboarders Friday when they were hit by a slide west of Nelson.

Searchers estimated Duffy's body was found about 80 metres from where he would have been hit by the slide. He was buried beneath the same depth of snow as a female companion who was located thanks to her beacon, then dug out by one of the guides a few minutes after the accident.

Hope dwindles in search for victim of avalanche

Man from San Francisco still missing as searchers probe snow in West Kootenays

Amy O'Brian

Vancouver Sun

Monday, February 02, 2004

An extensive search continued throughout the weekend for a man caught in a massive avalanche Friday in the mountains near Nelson.

A 23-person search team worked with RCMP sniffer dogs on Sunday, combing the square-kilometre area that was pummelled by the avalanche just before noon Friday.

Hope of finding Michael Duffy, 36, of San Francisco, dwindled Sunday, but search manager Craig Gutwald said he and the team haven't completely ruled out the possibility of finding him alive.

"I don't think we're under any illusions. We're faced with some pretty grim statistics, but miracles do happen," Gutwald said in a telephone interview from Revelstoke.

Gutwald said the team searched "high probability" areas first, including the areas behind trees and rocks. But when the victim wasn't found Friday afternoon, the method turned to shoulder-to-shoulder grid searching with each member of the team probing a long pole into the snow looking for evidence and the victim himself.

Thirty-two people were involved in the search on Saturday.

"We know he's there," Gutwald said. "As long as we keep plugging along we'll find him."

Duffy was cat-skiing with a group of 14 other "out-of-towners" in Valhalla Provincial Park, in an area called Russell Bowl.

RCMP said the entire group was swept up in the avalanche and three people were buried.

Two were recovered by other members of the group, but Duffy could not be found.

The two who were rescued were taken to hospital with minor injuries. RCMP said one returned to Quebec on Sunday and the other was still in hospital.

RCMP Constable Heather Macdonald outlined the chances of survival after being caught in an avalanche: "After burial time of about half an hour, the chances of survival are poor . . . At a depth of two feet [0.6 metres], the chances of survival are also poor."

Gutwald said the skiers who made it out safely were "lucky," but also well prepared.

"All of them were able to self rescue, because they had their avalanche transceivers on and they were prepared with their own probes and shovels, they could rescue their buddies," he said.

The missing man also had a transceiver, but Gutwald said it stopped working after the slide, likely because it was hit and damaged by something.

"That's not uncommon when you have avalanches of this magnitude or force. It took out a lot of trees in its path, so if it's breaking trees it's obviously going to break an avalanche transceiver," he said.

The avalanche was rated at a level of 3.5 out of 5, but part of the reason so many people survived was that the group was at the bottom of the slide, Gutwald said.

Snow began to loosen and fall approximately 455 vertical metres (1,500 vertical feet) above the group and Gutwald said it likely lost steam as it roared down the slope.

"If they had been up at the start and been carried down 1,500 vertical feet and been in this snow pack as it was rolling down the mountain, obviously the trauma on the body would've been such that they never would have survived," he said.

The group had finished its run down the mountain and was removing gear when the avalanche hit.

Gutwald said some lost equipment was found during the weekend search, including a snowboard the searchers believe belongs to the missing man.

One day after the Valhalla avalanche, the Canadian Avalanche Association issued a special warning to backcountry skiers for the second time this season.

Although the avalanche risk was actually higher Thursday and Friday, John Kelly, an avalanche forecaster with the Canadian Avalanche Association, said the heavy snow and poor visibility kept most skiers away from the dangerous slopes.

The risk to skiers jumped, however, when the sun started shining on Sunday, luring people out into the fresh powder.

"The human factor gets involved [in assessing risk]," Kelly said. "The sun comes out and people have been out of the backcountry for almost a week with all the snow and they want to get back in. The conditions are sunny, everything looks great."

But with up to 170 cm of snow falling within five to seven days in some southern regions of the province, Kelly said conditions were still moderate to considerable over the weekend.

Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of an avalanche in Glacier National Park that killed seven Calgary-area teenagers.

Man in avalanche ID'd

The Province

February 2, 2004

Police yesterday identified Michael Duffy, 36, of San Francisco as the man feared dead in an avalanche Friday that caught a party of skiers just outside Valhalla Provincial Park near Nelson.

Searches of the one-kilometre-square avalanche area yesterday were hampered by debris because numerous trees were torn down in the avalanche.

Duffy was among a group of 14 skiers who were cat-skiing -- taking a tracked vehicle up into the back-country.

Everyone in the group was struck by the avalanche and three were buried, including Duffy.

The other two were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

One remained in hospital last night while the other returned home to Quebec.

U.S. avalanche victim still missing

'Boarder missing from Big White found dead'

Canadian Press

Monday, February 02, 2004

Searchers are changing their approach slightly as they continue to probe an avalanche northwest of Nelson for the body of a U.S. skier.

RCMP Constable Heather McDonald says Monday's effort will rely more on police dogs. Searchers are hoping the dogs will be able to gain a scent in the hunt for Michael Duffy of San Francisco.

The 36-year-old man was among a group of 14 people when the slide came down on Friday.

Elsewhere, a missing Kelowna snowboarder has been found dead. The body of 26-year-old Christopher Cayford was spotted from a helicopter in an out-of-bounds area of the Big White ski resort.

Cayford was last seen nearly a week ago by his roommate when he left for a day of snowboarding. He had headed out alone.

Skier missing after avalanche in

southeastern B.C.

Last Updated Sat, 31 Jan 2004 15:13:15

NELSON. B.C. - Avalanche experts are working to

stablize an area of B.C.'s Valhalla Provincial Park

Saturday before rescuers can resume their search for

a missing skier.

Three skiers were caught in a slide Friday near Nelson.

Cpl. Grace Arnott with the RCMP says a search and

rescue team responded quickly.

"They located two of three

skiers who were taken to

hospital with injuries and

both are in stable condition

at this point." Arnott says

they may have suffered

fractures and trauma.

The rescue effort, which included a dog team, was

called off late Friday until the morning.

"The avalanche conditions in the area are obviously

quite hazardous," she said.

Arnott says the search team had some difficulty

because the weather in the area is poor. At this point

RCMP aren't releasing information on where the skiers

are from.

The slide was approximately a kilometre in size.

The concern about avalanche hazards affected

several major highways on Friday, including closing

sections of the Trans-Canada Highway. It was closed

from Sicamous to Revelstoke and Golden, as well as

east of Golden to 10 Mile Hill and in the Fraser Canyon

from Yale to Lytton.

Skier missing in avalanche

WebPosted Jan 30 2004 05:36 PM PST

NELSON, B.C. - Police and search and rescue teams are looking for a missing skier in Valhalla Provincial Park near Nelson in southeastern B.C.

The RCMP received a call just before noon on Friday that an avalanche had hit three skiers about 25 km west of the Kootenay community.

Rescue teams were dispatched to the scene, and located two of the three skiers.

They were taken to hospital where they're now listed in stable condition.

There's still no sign of the third skier, and police say poor weather conditions in the area are hampering searchers.

There's no word on where the skiers are from.