The two missing men were found safe in a valley on Sterling Mountain after being spotted by a SAR team in a helicopter at approximately 9:33 a.m. on Feb. 9. (Facebook Photo)

Busy weekend for backcountry rescuers

Two operations – a skier and two snowmobilers rescued

It was a busy weekend for Terrace rescuers who responded to two emergency calls for people missing in the backcountry on two separate days.

On Friday, February 7, Terrace Search and Rescue (SAR) were notified about a skier hadn’t returned home. His family drove up to the Shames Mountain parking lot where they found his vehicle.

Terrace SAR vice-president Dave Jephson said the unit was contacted on Friday night and told that family members were up at Shames looking for the skier, a 44-year-old man with extensive backcountry experience.

“We advised the ski hill to tell the family to report to the RCMP and file a missing person, which helps activate our response,” said Jephson.

At first light on Saturday, Terrace SAR put together a group of 15 rescuers, including members of the Shames Mountain Co-op’s ski patrol.

Four of the rescuers boarded a helicopter to speed up the search while the rest of the group set up support on the ground. Jephson said information came in from other skiers who were on the mountain when the man went missing helped rescuers narrow their search to a specific area.

“The information helped our haystack get a little smaller,” explains Jephson.

The helicopter was directed to the skier’s last known location and the man was spotted waving his arms frantically.

He was picked up and brought back down to the Shames Mountain lodge where a medical examination found him to be in good health and not requiring a ride to hospital.

Jephson said once again experience and planning had saved a life – the skier was left with only one ski when the other detached and slid over a steep slope.

Before leaving the skier ensured he had a supply of food and constructed a snow cave to keep warm through the night.

On Saturday night, it was that same experience and planning that saw two snowmobilers survive the cold caught out in the backcountry, this time on Sterling Mountain north of Terrace.

At about 8:00 p.m., Terrace SAR received another emergency call, this time for two local men who hadn’t returned home after they had left to go sledding for the day.

“The guys weren’t planning to spend the night and they should have been back home. When they hadn’t returned their family drove up and confirmed the truck was still there,” said Jephson.

Rescuers put together a plan and when first light broke on Sunday morning 15 Terrace SAR members gathered at Sterling Mountain’s trailhead to begin the search, equipped with two SAR Rhino vehicles and a mobile command unit.

Four rescuers jumped into a helicopter to search for the snowmobilers from the air.

“We knew the men checked into the first cabin but did not check into the second cabin so that gave us a working area,” said Jephson.

Jephson said the team at the trailhead was set up to monitor access to the area as many snowmobilers were showing up to help with the search. It was also decided that if the search for the men had to be intensified, a base camp would be set up at the first cabin on Sterling Mountain. A team in Terrace was also on stand-by in case more volunteers were needed.

Shortly after 9:30 a.m., however, the experienced chopper rescue team familiar with the mountain spotted two snowmobiles tucked under some trees in a gully.

They were airlifted off the mountain and brought down to the mountain base where they were checked over and given a clean bill of health.

Jephson said the two men were forced to spend the night on the mountain after one of the snowmobiles broke down.

“They made the decision to stay. They weren’t 100 per cent familiar with the area and didn’t know how far the cabins and trails were. In addition, it was late and getting dark,” said Jephson.

The men built an overnight shelter and kept warm by burning gasoline they drained from their snowmobiles.

“They had some provisions with them so they got down into a tree well and made a little shelter, lit a fire, ate some food and settled in for the night.”

He said the two men made the right decision to stay together in one spot and commended them for ensuring they had the necessary survival tools with them.

“If they weren’t rescued that morning, the men were ready to start sending smoke signals,” said Jephson.

The snowmobiles had to be left behind on the mountain, but the snowmobilers are arranging with a helicopter outfit to bring the machines down.

Jephson said that while it’s good to see people out and about in the backcountry, skiers and snowmobilers should always plan for any emergency, including being prepared to stay outdoors overnight.

“Anyone going into the backcountry must let someone know what their plans are and leave a very visible note in their vehicle with details on when they intend to return,” added Jephson.

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