Local search and rescue team locates man on third day
Alls well that ends well for a 59-year-old Washington snowmobiler who was missing for almost 40 hours in the Brandywine recreation area last weekend.
The RCMP received a call from a friend of the man at 8:15 p.m. on Friday, April 5 after they became separated on the way down. Whistler Search and Rescue (SAR) were notified and a search was initiated at 7 a.m. the next morning using an RCMP helicopter and ground crew. It snowed that night and was windy during the search, which made it impossible to look for tracks.
Aided by 40 searchers, including members of the Pemberton SAR team and friends of the lost man, the search went on until that evening.
He was found by helicopter Sunday, near exhaustion, but otherwise uninjured.
Brad Sills, the head of the Whistler Search and Rescue Team, was in the helicopter that located the man.
"When we found the set of tracks, there was just jubilation in the helicopter," he said. "We had pretty much written him off at that point. It ranks right up there with the most pleasant searches Ive ever been on, because it was getting close to being a body search. Instead we found a healthy, energetic 60-year-old."
According to Sills, the man spent the first night on the top of Powder Mountain, in the place where he and his friend got separated, at an elevation of 8,000 feet in temperatures that probably dipped below 15 degrees Celsius. Realizing he couldnt spend another night in that location, he proceeded down the mountain.
The SAR team searched all day Saturday, on snowmobiles and by helicopter, but didnt find anything. According to Sills, the search area covered hundreds of square kilometres.
Sunday morning the SAR team discovered the mans snowmobile. "It was at about 5,500 feet in a steep-sided avalanche chute, and had gone off a 50 foot cliff and shattered below. Then we found tracks leading away from it to the top of a 25 foot waterfall at which point they disappeared."
The SAR team had decided to focus their search on the waterfall until a few signs were discovered that made them resume their search.
The helicopter team discovered tracks that led them to the man, who had walked more than 5 km away from his snowmobile at this point.
"A lot of backcountry users could take a lesson from this fellow," said Sills. "Basically the mistake that was made is that they had radio but failed to check that day what frequencies to use."
The man had a survival pack with food, a space blanket, extra clothes, candles, fire starter, shovel and whistle. When he was found he still had one and a half chocolate bars left.
He didnt have a map, compass, or mirror with him, "and he probably would have done better with those items," says Sills.
The cost of the rescue hasnt been determined, although Sills says with 12.5 hours of helicopter time at $1,600 an hour, it wasnt cheap. The man was not charged for the rescue, however, but was asked to make a donation to the Search and Rescue Team.