B.C.’s search-and-rescue teams ‘pushed to their limits’ amid record callouts in pandemic year

Click to play video: 'Concerning surge in search and rescue calls in B.C.' Concerning surge in search and rescue calls in B.C.
(June 26, 2020) The B.C. Search and Rescue Association says it's worried about a surge in calls, that puts its volunteers' health and safety at risk. John Hua reports – Jun 26, 2020

The 2020 season was the busiest on record for B.C.’s ground search-and-rescue teams as people sought the outdoors amid COVID-19 restrictions, according to the province.

Data released Saturday showed the province’s 79 teams were deployed 1,959 times between April 2020 and April 2021, a jump of 25 per cent compared to previous years.

Ahead of the season, B.C.’s teams got an average of 1,500 call-outs per year, still more than the rest of Canada combined.

Read more: One dead, two injured in avalanche near Blackcomb Glacier

Despite the best efforts of rescue teams, there were still 10 fatal avalanches in B.C. over the last year.

In a media release, BC Search and Rescue Association president Chris Kelly said SAR teams had been “pushed to their limits” by the situation.

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“COVID-19 has made risky work even more dangerous for each individual,” he said.

“I implore anyone heading out into the elements to do their part by planning ahead. Make sure you’re prepared for where you’re going – have a plan, have the right gear, know how to use it and take the training.”

Click to play video: 'Search-and-rescue teams warn of hazardous conditions over Family Day weekend' Search-and-rescue teams warn of hazardous conditions over Family Day weekend
Search-and-rescue teams warn of hazardous conditions over Family Day weekend – Feb 13, 2021

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth praised the province’s teams for their dedication during a tough year, and urged backcountry adventurers and day hikers alike to take the necessary precautions to ensure they don’t need to call for help.

“They jump into action in dangerous circumstances and inclement weather to protect public safety, and COVID-19 has only made their jobs harder,” Farnworth said.

Read more: Lost B.C. snowmobiler praised for ‘spot-on’ survival response

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“It’s our duty as British Columbians to protect them by ensuring we’ve taken safety precautions and are well-prepared for the unexpected when heading into the backcountry.”

BC AdventureSmart recommends anyone heading outdoors follow the “Three Ts”: trip plan, train and take the essentials.

The organization has extensive outdoor safety information on its website.

You can also find information about avalanche safety at Avalanche Canada’s website.

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