‘You’re pretty sure you’re going to die’: Man who survived fatal B.C. avalanche

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WATCH ABOVE: Julia Wong speaks with Ivan Bombak who survived Friday's deadly avalanche near McBride B.C – Jan 31, 2016

EDMONTON – A survivor of an avalanche that killed five men from Alberta is speaking out about the horrific experience.

READ MORE: 5 men from Alberta killed in human-triggered avalanche near McBride, BC

Ivan Bombak, 60, is a retired lawyer who lives in Vegreville, Alta. He, Vince Loewen and two others left Thursday for the snowmobiling trip to McBride, B.C.

Bombak has snowmobiled for 20 years, but this was his first time to McBride.

RELATED: Snowmobilers back on mountain after 5 deaths in McBride avalanche

“It was sunny. The snow conditions were white and fluffy. It was almost ideal conditions,” he said.

But just after noon on Friday, everything changed. Bombak and his group ran into other sledders in the Renshaw Snowmobiling Area.

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“We all were gathered by chance at the location. When I looked up and I saw that an avalanche had started immediately above me, I screamed ‘Avalanche!’ and ‘Run!’” he said.

Bombak said he started running but couldn’t outrun the slide.

“The impact with the approaching front of the snow occurred within seconds. It is really horrific. You are plunged into darkness. You are thrown about with no control whatsoever of your body,” he said.

Bombak twisted his right leg during the ordeal. His survival instincts kicked in and he tried to swim through the snow.

“It seems like an eternity. In your mind, you’re pretty sure you’re going to die,” he said.

“I just remember thinking I never had a chance to say goodbye to my wife.”

He said that, within 10 seconds, the snow stopped moving. Then he started orienting himself to get out of the snowpack.

“I saw a bit of light in front of my face, which probably saved my life. I was able to free my hands and claw my way towards the light,” he said.

“My face shield and helmet [were] plugged with snow and breathing and respiration was difficult.”
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Bombak managed to crawl out of the snow and started moving towards the others.

“I saw a helmet below me in the snow. It was a son of one of my riding partners. He had been trapped beneath the snow. I was fortunate to get to him and dig him out,” he said.

It was later that day when Bombak learned his close friend of 25 years, Vince Loewen, had died in the avalanche. Loewen, also from Vegreville, was well-known in the community and also owned an accounting firm.

“I would like the world to know this man was exceptional. I will never again find a friend like him. It’s impossible to replicate him and I’m very, very hurt by my loss of him,” he said.

Bombak said Loewen’s family is leaning on their religion for support as they process what happened.

“They think it’s God’s will that it was time for Vince to meet his maker,” he said.

Bombak credits good fortune for surviving – he got swept up in a part of the avalanche that had less pressure, whereas Loewen was caught in a part with more pressure.

The Vegreville man said he plans to keep snowmobiling but may stay away from the mountains. And as of right now, he has no plans to go back to McBride anytime soon.


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