A lack of communication led to a large-scale, multi-hour search for a distressed snowmobiler on Saturday in the South Okanagan who was able to walk out of the area himself.
The search started after a snowmobiler called Apex Mountain Resort to say he needed help but the call dropped, leaving officials with few details about the situation or the rider’s whereabouts.
Penticton and District Search and Rescue (PENSAR) said this call for help was reported to 911 around 4 p.m., and since “early attempts to identify a position of the snowmobiler’s phone call proved to be unsuccessful”, the search and rescue organization was left with a large area to search and limited time before nightfall.
Due to the “diminishing light and a lack of information”, the search manager decided to call in help from other local search and rescue groups, Apex resorts staff and a local snowmobile club.
The Canadian Air Search and Rescue Association also sent an aircraft from Kelowna to help locate the man.
“When something like that happens, you always err on the side of caution,” said PENSAR spokesperson Randy Brown.
PENSAR said it was only when police were able to trace the original phone call and get in touch with the man roughly five hours later, around 9 p.m., that searchers realized he had been able to walk out himself and had made his way back to Apex Mountain Resort.
Brown said the man didn’t realize his call to Apex Mountain Resort had touched off such a large search.
Brown said the man had snowshoes with him and was able to walk-out after getting his sled buried in the deep snow.
He said there was a similar incident last weekend when another outdoor enthusiast made contact with police but their phone went dead. That touched off a search in the Little White Mountain area by search and rescues crews from both Penticton and Kelowna.
In that case, the man also walked out.
“It was only because I sent in another rescue team … that we spotted the vehicle and stopped it and were able to prevent people being out all night long looking for that person,” said Brown.
The incidents have PENSAR urging anyone who makes a dropped call for help to “connect with authorities to advise that you are safe.”
“You may not know resources are mobilized to search for you,” said PENSAR in a media release about the incident.
Officials are also reminding backcountry users to tell someone where they are going and to avoid venturing out alone.