Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2009-01-16
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Monashee Mountains, 25 km south of Valemount
State: BC
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed


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Sledders saw killer slide


A tight-knit group of local snowmobilers watched in horror Friday as their 33-year-old friend was buried in an avalanche on a B.C. mountain.

The seven experienced snowmobilers were well-equipped with avalanche gear when they went riding in the Monashee Mountains, 25 km south of Valemount, RCMP said. But around 1 p.m., the man - whose name Sun Media is withholding at his family's request - was riding up the mountain when an avalanche struck.

Steve Hallett, one of the riders, was lower on the mountain with the rest of the group, showing one of his friends how to operate his camera when he noticed the snow roaring down the mountain.

"I yelled: 'Avalanche,' " he said yesterday. "I turned and started running to the flat area."

The men tried to outrun the oncoming snow until "in slow motion, it came to a stop," around their knees.

Hallett heard a snowmobile and saw one of his friends had made it to near the bottom of the hill. Then he heard another machine.

At first he thought another friend was accounted for, until he noticed it was a "ghost rider" - a snowmobile without a driver. The machine continued past the base of the mountain for about a kilometre before it crashed.

"I did a head count and realized (someone) was missing," Hallett said. "That's when panic mode set in."

The men immediately put their avalanche beacons on track until they got a signal.

Frantically, they began digging through metres of snow.

When they finally spotted a helmet, they worked quickly to free their friend. The rescue only took 15 minutes.

"There was no pulse or anything when we dragged him out of the hole," Hallett said.

But the group refused to give up and, instead, took turns giving the man CPR for two solid hours until a rescue helicopter arrived.

"We battled right to the end," Hallett said.

The men, who have been riding for nearly a decade, had assessed the mountain that day and decided that because an avalanche had already ripped down the right side of the mountain, it would be safe. They had traversed the area one at a time 65 to 70 times before the second avalanche hit.

But, Hallett explained, they are all extreme riders and they know every time they ride there is a level of risk. "We know it's a dangerous sport, but it's a thrill and we can't live our lives sitting on the couch," he said.

Still, he added, it's a "tough, tough loss."

"(Our friend) had a heart of gold and would do anything for anybody, like a whole bunch of the guys," he said. "We'll keep riding in his memory because that's what he would want us to do."

Avalanches have claimed the lives of 15 people this season.

Another snowmobiler was killed in a slide on Saturday on Babcock Mountain near Tumbler Ridge, B.C. He has not been identified.

Glenn Daykin, owner of Spindrift Power Sports in McBride, B.C., who has worked on machines owned by Hallett and his friends, said snow conditions this season are the worst they've been in recent years.

"Avalanches are a risk you take when you unload your sled out of the truck," he said. "It's a risk that you always know is there and you just try to prepare yourself as best you can."