A team of 30 searchers and a winch-equipped helicopter were involved with the rescue of two snowmobilers from Crowfoot Mountain Saturday.
After two cold, wet nights on the mountain, 48-year-old Mike Griffiths of Moberly Lake and Chase resident Allan Dunk, 46, were hungry, thirsty and thankful for members of the Crowfoot Snowmobile Club as well as Shuswap and Vernon Search and Rescue.
Griffiths and Dunk made a four-hour run out to Grizzly Lodge Jan. 21, calling friend Brad Hutton in Chase at 2:30 p.m. to say they were heading home, with an ETA of about 6:30 p.m.
But the men lost their way because of the low cloud, fog and snow.
When the pair failed to return, Hutton called the snowmobile club, whose members immediately began searching.
RCMP Sgt. Gary Heebner, of the Chase detachment, says police were alerted at 4:33 a.m. and immediately called on Shuswap SAR for assistance.
Heebner says an RCMP helicopter and one from Lakehead Helicopters in Chase began an aerial search but had to call it off because of the poor visibility.
The Vernon SAR helicopter was also called in but was not able to get into the area and spent Friday night in Salmon Arm.
Ground searchers, including 13 members of SAR and some 17 members of the Crowfoot Snowmobile Club, went looking for the two men in the area of Grizzly Lodge.
“Later in the day, we got radio communication, but the visibility was so poor, even with communications, they had to spend another night out there,” John Schut, Shuswap SAR search manager, says.
“The avalanche danger was high so we had to be careful about where people were going.”
Griffiths says Hutton loaned radios to SAR and told them what frequency he and Dunk were operating on.
“They’re only good for a 2.5-kilometre radius, so when we got in contact it was ‘right on, we know you’re within two kilometres,’” says Griffiths. “We gave them our GPS co-ordinates and that’s how they found us so fast.”
Griffiths and Dunk made a snow cave with a roof, but the rain percolated through and made for an uncomfortable night and sleep in 20-minute increments. SAR members meanwhile spent the night at the Crowfoot Mountain Chalet and took up the search again at first light.
The Vernon SAR helicopter arrived and was able to pluck Griffiths and Dunk out of the 150-foot-deep ravine in under 15 minutes.
Trevor Honigman, public information officer with Vernon SAR, says the helicopter is an asset for the whole region, not just Vernon, and members are always happy to provide mutual aid.
“This is the only search unit in Canada that is certified to utilize the winch in rescue operations,” says Honigman, noting it is a pilot project being assessed by Emergency Management B.C. and B.C. SAR.
“We want to show that a volunteer team can have the training and skill sets to use this technology efficiently and effectively.
“This was in an area of 100-foot plus trees… The terrain was so steep, we couldn’t get the snowmobiles out,” he said.
The men were taken to Shuswap Lake Hospital but declined treatment and headed to the Crowfoot Snowmobile Club to say thank you to their members and to SAR.
“SAR was awesome, but the reason I was found so quickly was because of the people who know the mountain so well,” said Griffiths, who encourages people to donate to SAR.