Kimberley avalanche victim died in same area as friend four years earlier
A Kimberley man killed by an avalanche Saturday was on a memorial snowmobile run for a friend who died four years earlier in the same area under eerily similar conditions.
Joel Conway, 38, was one of seven seasoned backcountry snowmobilers with appropriate survival gear on a run near Hellroaring Creek to remember Clayten Sean Smith, who died on March 25, 2009 while touring the area with four friends.
“It was the same (week), virtually the same place,” said B.C. Coroners Service spokeswoman Barb McLintock.
The creek, located southwest of Kimberley, is in an avalanche-prone area of the Purcell Mountains where a backcountry skier was badly injured last year.
While touring the area, Conway and another man were buried by a large avalanche, according to McLintock.
One man dug himself out, but Conway was buried too deeply for the others to find him. Search and rescue crews blasted the area later Saturday from a helicopter, but the avalanche risk was still too high to send in a ground crew to look for Conway, according to Kimberley Search And Rescue’s president Peter Reid.
By first light on Sunday morning, more than 70 emergency responders with two avalanche dogs had gathered from the communities of Golden, Cranbrook, Fernie, Sparwood, Elkford, Invermere and Creston. Conway was found mid-afternoon on Sunday under 1.5 m of snow, at the leading edge of the avalanche’s path, Reid said.
Four years earlier, Smith, 27, was killed by an avalanche set off by the group of snowmobilers highmarking in the same area, McLintock said. She didn’t know whether Saturday’s avalanche was triggered by highmarking — when snowmobilers climb as high and fast up a mountain as possible.
Last week, the Canadian Avalanche Centre issued a special warning to skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers, as sunny spring weather hit the province. It said warmer temperatures could weaken snow surface crusts and overhanging cornices, resulting in easy-to-trigger slides.
The coroners service, in its release, urged backcountry users throughout the province to take extreme care and check the CAC website for current conditions.
This winter five people have now been killed by avalanches in B.C., according to the coroners service.
Kimberley is in southern B.C. near the Alberta border, about 400 km southwest of Calgary.
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