Search suspended for missing B.C. snowmobiler presumed buried in avalanche

CHETWYND, B.C. – Despite coordinated efforts over the past week, a search for a missing snowmobiler south of Chetwynd has been scaled back.

As of day’s end on Feb. 8 the search for a missing 31-year-old Fort St. John man, who authorities believe was buried in an avalanche, triggered on Feb. 2 has been scaled back.

Search and rescue volunteers from Prince George, Tumbler Ridge, Fort St. John and Chetwynd all deployed, alongside upwards of three RCMP Police Service Dogs from all areas of the province to assist in the ground search. The search was also supported from the air by a RCMP helicopter and other local helicopter companies. Searchers managed to recover the missing man’s snowmobile, which has since been removed from the area on Saturday February 8.

Search efforts have been hampered by poor weather conditions throughout the week and prevented searchers from safely accessing the area on both Wednesday and Thursday. A controlled blasting was necessary in order to deem the area safe for searchers to re-gain access on Feb. 7 and then again on Feb. 8.

RCMP Air Services were utilized to transport search and rescue technicians trained in high risk avalanche rescues, along with RCMP Police Services Dogs to the remote site of the slide. The search was also supported by a canine trained by the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA).

Search and rescue efforts are no longer underway, states Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey, spokesperson for the BC RCMP. Despite all efforts to locate this missing person, police now believe their search for the Fort St. John man is a recovery operation. The search is not over, and RCMP will monitor the area of the slide from the air as the snowpack melts.

RCMP are asking backcountry users to avoid the area of the slide. They discourage others from searching the area, due to the high level of risk for additional avalanches being triggered.

Chetwynd RCMP continues to provide the missing man’s family with updates, while RCMP Victim Services provide ongoing support.

On Feb. 2 just after 4:00 P.M. Chetwynd RCMP were notified by the International Emergency Response Coordination Centre of an emergency beacon signal on the east face of the Murray Mountain range between Mt Hunter and Milburn Peak, south of Pine Le Moray Provincial Park. The park is southwest of the community of Chetwynd.

It was later determined that an avalanche had occurred while a group of snowmobilers were in the area and one man was missing.

Chetwynd RCMP called for assistance from Search & Rescue however due to the weather conditions and the potential risk of more avalanches, SAR ground crews could not immediately attend the area.

SAR, along with the RCMP Air Services, and Police Dog Services trained in avalanche searches will start actively searching when conditions are safe.

-Hans Braxmeier photo

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