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Avalanche claims two in northwest B.C.

Heli-skier and guide swept away

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By Andrew Mitchell

Monday’s fatal avalanche north of Smithers claimed two young lives — 27-year-old Daisuke Matsui and 24-year-old Kimberly Manchip.

Three others were injured in the slide, including one woman airlifted to Vancouver for emergency surgery to repair a broken leg, and two others that have since been released from hospital in Prince Rupert.

The incident occurred 230 km northwest of Smithers in the Delta Peak area, a glaciated area near the small town of Stewart. All five of the people caught in the slide were heli-skiing with Vernon-based Last Frontier Heliskiing, including the guide. The avalanche hazard was rated considerable at the time of the accident, and the slide was reported to be in the neighbourhood of 3.5 on a scale of one to five. According to the Canadian Classification System, 3.5 is on the high end, as a Class 3 “could bury a car, destroy a small building or break a few trees”, and a Class 4 “could destroy a railroad car, large truck, several buildings, or a forest up to four hectares.”

The RCMP are investigating the incident, while working to recover the bodies of the deceased male and female skiers. The slide site is remote, making it difficult to investigate and conduct a recovery. The effort is further complicated by the risk of more slides.

According to reports, New Frontier has brought in counsellors to speak to guests staying at the company lodge and is cooperating in the investigation.

The two deaths brings the 2006-07 toll in Canada from avalanches to seven, including one ice climbing fatality at Fortress Mountain in Alberta, one snowmobile fatality in Newfoundland, two backcountry snowboarders in the Monashees, the death of a heli-skier near Hazelton and the two most recent fatalities in Stewart.

That’s still below the national average of 11 or 12 deaths a year for the past decade — an average that goes up to 15 when you include the record 29 avalanche fatalities reported in the 2002-03 season. But Canadian Avalanche Association spokeswoman Mary Clayton warns that we are not out of the woods yet.

“We are pleased with the statistics, which is a hard thing to say, but the season is not over yet and I’d hate to take credit too early for the CAA,” she said. “We have seen the numbers go down the past three years after 2003, which is a welcome development. We made a lot of changes after that season, and I do believe people are more aware.

“But so far we’re pleased, but the season is not over. We haven’t seen a snowpack like this for a long time, and the season is going to last for a while yet.”

The coastal area is generally more dangerous in the spring, when warming temperatures and the sun loads slopes to the point where natural slides are common and human triggered slides are likely.

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