Five men from Alberta are dead after an apparent human-triggered avalanche occurred near McBride, British Columbia on Friday.
Dale Mason, manager for the Robson Valley Search and Rescue Team, said the call came in around 2 p.m. from the Renshaw snowmobiling area, about 20 kilometres northwest of McBride.
He said there was no avalanche warning in effect, but the danger “was considerable,” despite the clear weather at the time of the avalanche.
“That’s normal riding conditions this time of year,” he said.
Two other people were injured, and one was sent to hospital in stable condition. Nobody is unaccounted for.
On Saturday, the B.C. Coroners Service confirmed the identity of the victims:
-Vincent Eugene Loewen, 52, Vegreville, AB
-Tony Christopher Greenwood, 41, Grande Prairie County, AB
-Ricky Robinson, 55, Spruce Grove, AB
-Todd William Chisholm, 47, of St. Albert, AB
-John Harold Garley, 49, Stony Plain, AB
Seventeen people from four different groups were caught in the McBride avalanche.
Mason said survivors pulled bodies from the snow before rescue crews arrived. Since there were multiple separate groups snowmobiling at the time, he didn’t know how well survivors knew the dead.
“They located and dug them out very quickly. They did an excellent job themselves,” he said.
Asked how difficult it is to extract a body from an avalanche, Mason replied, “It’s sort of like shovelling concrete.”
“Two SAR technicians were on scene almost immediately as they were snowmobiling in the area just prior to the slide occurring,” wrote Cpl. Dan Moskaluk in a statement.
“Throughout the afternoon, SAR Technicians assisted with the rescue of several snowmobilers belonging to at least three separate groups that were caught in the slide. In conjunction with assisting those individuals, SAR technicians also tended to the search for suspected buried persons in the slide.”
WATCH: Avalanche Canada official comments on weather leading up to avalanche
Ron Willert runs an online forum for people who ride snowmobiles and ATVs. He said he knew the people involved in the avalanche and texted a statement to Global News. It read, in part:
“I snowmobile out of McBride almost every weekend myself. These people are members of my website, and I know them personally. This is on the way to an area called Spirit Lake, it’s on a commonly known trail that most riders go in to get into this area… McBride hasn’t had a lot of snow, then you get hoar frost which is a very weak layer, then they had some good dumps of snow in the last week and a half which sit on top and create a very unstable layer… This is a hard hit on the members of snowandmud.com, and McBride Big Country Snowmobile Club.”
Avalanche Canada says the backcountry near McBride can be treacherous, and the combination of wind, rain and snow over the past few days have created significant stress on the layers of snowpack.
“It’s definitely a time to be cautious and until we get more details, people should be very, very cautious,” says Karl Klassen, Warning Service Manager for Avalanche Canada.
Klassen said Friday that the avalanche appears to have been human-triggered, but he did not elaborate.
WATCH: RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk discusses the avalanche that killed five snowmobilers near McBride, B.C.
A spokesperson told Global News on Saturday that conflicting reports came in quickly right after the incident. After initially stating it was human-triggered, Avalanche Canada modified its statement to say it appeared to be human-triggered based on the information it currently has.
Jobs and Tourism Minister Shirley Bond, who has been the MLA for Prince George-Valemount for 15 years, issued a statement on behalf of the B.C. government.
“This avalanche and the resulting loss of life is devastating news and our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost a loved one,” she said.
Bond also praised the emergency responders involved in dealing with the tragedy.
“I appreciate their courage and skill in the search and recovery process. It is a very sad day for all of us.”
McBride is a small town of 600 people between Valemount and Prince George, near the border between British Columbia and Alberta.
An avalanche last March in the lower Doré River near McBride resulted in the deaths of two Alberta men.
Watch below: Nancy Carlson provides an update on a deadly avalanche near the Alberta-B.C. border and Margeaux Morin breaks down the snow conditions in the area at the time.
Facts about snowmobiles and avalanches
Here are some facts about previous deaths, a study on the issue and one close call:
— On Jan. 26 this year, Angelo Carpino, 41, was killed in an avalanche near Prince George, B.C. He was among a group of five people who were riding their snowmobiles in the Torpy Trail area of the McGregor Mountain Range. Other members of his group were able to dig him out, but could not resuscitate him.
— Two men were also killed in the McBride area while snowmobiling last March. Curtis Fries, 36, of Sherwood Park, Alta., was dug out of the snow and his fellow riders tried to perform CPR on him but he died at the scene. Thomas Hamilton, 29, of Ponoka, Alta., was later found under 15 feet of snow.
— 2014 was a bad year for snowmobile-related avalanche deaths in British Columbia. Chris McCoy of Sylvan Lake, Alta., died near Revelstoke; Jay Quayle of Lloydminster, Sask., died near Blue River; A.J. Cleary of Coldstream, B.C., was killed near Keefer Lake; Kym Wilson of Warburg, Alta., died near Valemount; and a 29-year-old man from Crawford Bay, B.C., was killed in an avalanche on the east side of Kootenay Lake.
— The B.C. Coroner’s Office released a report summarizing avalanche deaths in the province between Jan. 1, 1996, and March 17, 2014. During that time, there were a total of 192 avalanche-related deaths, for an average of 10 deaths a year. The average age of the victims was 35.9 years old, 90 per cent were male. The highest percentage of deaths, 41 per cent, came through snowmobiling, followed by skiing at 33 per cent, and heliskiing at 13 per cent. Most of those killed were from B.C. or Alberta.
— Last April, Curtis Johnson, 52, was buried in an avalanche near Blue Lake, between Sicamous and Revelstoke. The terrifying incident was caught on a helmet-mounted camera he was wearing. He survived.
– With files from Julia Wong, Margeaux Morin, Emily Mertz, Jon Azpiri and The Canadian Press