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Coroner identifies Australian man killed in snowmobiling accident

Victim was 65-year-old Paul Leechburch-Auwers



An Australian man who was killed in a New Year's Day snowmobiling accident has been identified.

The BC Coroners Service confirmed the victim was 65-year-old Paul Leechburch-Auwers of Catherine Field, a suburb of Sydney. A 54-year-old Australian female passenger was also injured in the crash and taken to a North Vancouver hospital.

Leechburch-Auwers was taking part in a group snowmobile experience organized by Canadian Wilderness Adventures (CWA) when he lost control of his machine shortly after 11 p.m. while descending a trail below Fitzsimmons corner on Blackcomb Mountain. The coroners service said the snowmobile, which was being piloted along a concrete barrier, went over an embankment and struck a tree. Leechburch-Auwers died on the scene just after midnight, the report said.

Earlier reports from Whistler RCMP were less clear on what role the tree played in the man's death.

"I haven't been able to determine if there is any trauma on the body or not," said Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair on Monday.

"Did he strike the tree or go into the tree slowly? I don't know. There was a tree down there that he was apparently up against but I don't know if that contributed to this fatality or not."

Police also noted that the man was found in cardiac arrest, which was not included in a coroners service report. It's unclear if the man went into arrest before or after the accident, according to police. BC Coroners Service spokesperson Barb McLintock declined to comment further on the continuing investigation.

In an email Tuesday, Canadian Wilderness Adventures GM Craig Beattie said he could not comment on exactly what transpired since the investigation is ongoing, but that "the man was found by a guide beside a tree" following the crash.

"Their machine dropped approximately (six feet) from the road to the snow and continued another (eight feet) before coming to rest amongst the trees."

Leechburch-Auwers was participating in CWA's fondue dinner tour to the Crystal Hut, which includes a glass of wine or beer with the meal.

"We believe alcohol was not a factor," Beattie said.

"Canadian Wilderness has strict regulations around alcohol and snowmobile operations; our snowmobile clients are offered a glass of wine (or a beer) with dinner and that is all they are permitted. The serving staff know who the snowmobilers and passengers are and will only serve them one drink with dinner."

The first fatality in the company's 23 years, Beattie said CWA has reviewed its tour policies and procedures on Blackcomb Mountain and is confident "that our guides adhered to all of our protocol leading up to this unfortunate incident."

Beattie said CWA has offered condolences to the family of Leechburch-Auwers.

"We have reached out to the family to pass along our most sincere condolences as they work through their loss," he said.

"We want to thank the community for their words of encouragement as this has also affected our entire team at Canadian."

The BC Coroners Service and Whistler RCMP continue to investigate.