NEWS

Man dead after avalanche in B.C.'s Purcell range

03/24/2013 06:01 EDT | Updated 05/24/2013 05:12 EDT
Search and rescue crews have recovered the body of a man caught in a massive avalanche Saturday in the Purcell Mountains west of Kimberley, B.C.

B.C. Coroners Service spokeswoman Barb McLintock says the man was killed when an avalanche struck a group of seven men in the steep and rugged terrain of the Hellroaring Creek area.

"Our coroner for the East Kootenay area has been called to the scene... There was one fatality," she said Sunday.

McLintock said crews had problems reaching the area where the man was thought to be buried, and recovery crews had to blast the area before they could go in.

"It was apparently a very large avalanche with a very large debris field... They've had some problems actually making the site safe enough [to access]," she said.

The identity of the deceased has not been released, and it is unclear if anyone else in the group sustained any injuries. It has been reported the men were snowmobiling at the time, although officials now says it's possible the man killed was skiing.

The Hellroaring Creek area, with avalanche-prone terrain, has been hazardous and deadly to skiers and snowmobilers in the past.

In 2009, a snowmobiler died after being buried for five minutes in an avalanche in the Hellroaring Creek area. His four companions, also on snowmobiles, escaped the path of the slide and managed to dig him out but had to leave him unconscious on the snow when it became too dangerous to stay by his side.

In 2012, a 35-year-old backcountry skier was badly injured near Hellroaring Creek in the St. Mary's Lake area. His companion, a 36-year-old woman, dug him out and then went for help. He was taken to hospital in critical condition.

Danger rating 'considerable'

Ilya Storm, a forecast co-ordinator with the Canadian Avalanche Centre in Revelstoke, B.C., says the Purcell mountains are dangerous right now partly due to unstable snow overhangs, or cornices, that are sloughing off when the daytime sun heats them.

The collapsing cornices could be triggering slides, he says, but so too could the weight of skiers or snowmobilers on shallow snow could be triggering a slide at an underlying layer of surface crust.

"Avalanches happen all the time in the mountains. Right now our danger ratings are considerable in alpine regions," Storm said.

He said there aren't always obvious clues at to the avalanche danger in a particular spot, and misreading the terrain and the weather could be deadly.

"If you're in the wrong place, you can trip that land mine and start an avalanche yourself," Storm said.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre issued a special warning earlier this week for northern and inland B.C. It said while the sunny weather over parts of B.C. this weekend may be inviting to skiers and snowboarders, backcountry users should continue to be extra cautious.

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