The rescue of an injured skier, who broke his leg in an avalanche at Strathcona Provincial Park, stretched into the early-morning hours Wednesday due to challenging conditions.
He was one of four backcountry skiers, all Comox Valley residents, who ran into trouble Tuesday afternoon about five kilometres southwest of Mount Washington. The group made a cellphone call for help about 2:10 p.m.
It was after 3 a.m. Wednesday by the time the injured skier has transferred to a waiting ambulance at CFB Comox, where a Cormorant helicopter had taken him. He was in stable condition.
The other three skiers were brought out of the area by ground crews.
The cellphone call brought a response from Comox Valley search-and-rescue and Comox Valley RCMP, along with help from Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Capt. Greg Clarke of Victoria’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre said it was slow-going over tough terrain for rescuers using snowmobiles and snowshoes, so military assistance was requested after they got to the skiers.
The ground crew was able to tend to the injured skier, then waited for a Cormorant helicopter and Buffalo aircraft sent from CFB Comox at 11:30 p.m.
Capt. Blair Turner, first officer on the Cormorant, described the conditions as turbulent.
High-intensity flares from the Buffalo helped the Cormorant safely lower two crew members 52 metres to the skier, who was at the bottom of a 7.5-metre cliff where nearby snow was chest-deep. Winds of about 50 kilometres an hour and low visibility posed problems, and chunks of snow falling from trees also hampered the rescue.
Cpl. Darren Lagan of Island District RCMP noted that the Comox Valley search-and-rescue team and others like it are volunteer groups, and deserve accolades.
“Comox Valley SAR spent hours in the cold and not-pleasant weather.”
Lagan said the RCMP is involved as the lead agency in such situations “but the horsepower comes from those SAR crews.”
“The SAR people are ones with specialized training.”
Lagan said the successful rescue highlighted the fact that the skiers were prepared for what they were doing.
“This group was able to look after themselves until searchers could reach them. They had a fire going and they had the right equipment.”
Anyone thinking of heading to the backcountry at this time of year is advised to check for the latest conditions on the Canadian Avalanche Centre website at avalanche.ca.
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