POLITICS

Johnson's Landing Landslide: B.C Search Resumes For Final Victim

07/24/2012 06:05 EDT | Updated 09/23/2012 05:12 EDT
CP
VANCOUVER - Search and rescue workers will resume efforts Wednesday to recover the body of a 17-year-old girl from the debris of a massive landslide in a southeastern British Columbia community.

The BC Coroners Service said searchers will use heavy excavation equipment for another two days as they try to locate Rachel Webber near her family's home in the hamlet of Johnsons Landing.

The bodies of her father, Valentine Webber, 60, and 22-year-old sister Diana Webber were recovered last week after the July 12 slide.

B.C.'s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said technical experts have given the go ahead to continue searching for the teenager.

"The family was very anxious that we return to the site," Lapointe said Tuesday. "Obviously it means a lot to the girl's mother that both of her daughters are recovered.

"But we needed to reassess whether there was any meaningful possibility to recover Rachel Webber, and we feel on a balance of probability that we have a very good chance of success."

But Lapointe said technical experts have concluded that it's highly unlikely that the body of 64-year-old German national Petra Frehse will be found because her home was further up the mountainside and was more heavily impacted by the slide. The search for her remains will therefore not resume.

Meanwhile, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson thanked members of the city's Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team for participating in the search.

Robertson said the knowledge gained by the team, which is also known as Canada Task Force 1, could be used if a disaster ever struck Vancouver.

Vancouver Fire Chief and team member John McKearney said the incident demonstrates the importance of a properly equipped organization of professional rescuers.

"I hope that the federal government witnesses the contribution of Task Force 1," McKearney said.

"To continue the level of participation at the level at which we are, the federal government needs to be not only a policy partner, but they need to be a funding partner."

McKearney said the team's knowledge helped speed up search efforts.

The slide on the shores of Kootenay Lake occurred after a month of heavy rain allowed a mountainside to give way, sending trees and rubble roaring through the hamlet.

Search and rescue team member Capt. Rob Plecas said the debris was up to seven metres deep in some areas, but the scene wasn't what he expected.

"I found it absolutely amazing that there was no mud, nothing ever got dirty but the soles of my boots," he said.

"Everyone, and I myself too, was thinking we'd be walking in waste-deep, knee-deep mud. It wasn't like that."

Plecas said it was sad and frustrating to not find all four missing people, but praised the team's efforts.

"It would be like putting four needles at the bottom of a thousand haystacks and saying, 'Go ahead and find them,'" he said.

"The fact that we were able to use our training, our technology, our resources and, for lack of a better word, just gut effort and gut instinct to find the two is absolutely remarkable."