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Old 12-30-2008, 11:00 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Fernie Avalanche kills 8

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Small B.C. town in tears as folks come together over eight dead in avalanche

By Cheryl Chan — Staff ReporterDecember 30, 2008 7:01 PM

SPARWOOD — Hundreds of teary-eyed residents gathered at a candlelight vigil Monday night to pray for eight young men killed in avalanches the day before.

Seven bodies were recovered Monday and the eighth was recovered Tuesday morning.

“They were all good guys out doing what they liked to do,” Sparwood Mayor David Wilks told the sombre crowd who braved sub-zero temperatures as a show of support to the families of the victims.

“Sparwood changed yesterday,” said Wilks. “It is for us to show our support to the families who will need our support in the weeks and months to come.”

Tears fell as fast as the snow that drifted gently to the ground as Wilks recited the men’s first names.

Sparwood Coun. Sharon Fraser led the crowd in a solemn recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at the vigil, held beside a giant green truck, a Sparwood landmark.

Lifelong Sparwood resident Barry Marchie said he attended the vigil to show support for the young men and their families.

“It’s going to be a tough time for them,” he said. Lana, a longtime friend of some of the men who didn’t want her last name published, said: “The entire town is going to be crushed.

“It would be bad enough to heal after one. How do you heal after eight?” Lana asked and added she has known one of the men, Kurt Kabel, since she was five years old. She described him as a protector and good influence during her teenage years.

“If I was allowed to go out, I made sure he was able to go out with me,” she said. Kabel, 28, married earlier this year and he and his wife have an infant son.

Lana said another man, Blaine Wilson, and his girlfriend are the godparents of her young son. Wilson, 26, was a frequent companion of Lana’s boyfriend on hunting trips.

“He’s the best hunting companion there is,” she said. “They thrived on climbing up the mountains and hunting together.”

A Facebook page called Pray for the Safe Return Home of the Elk Valley Boys had more than 1,500 members last night.

The 11 snowmobilers were caught in four avalanches in Harvey Pass, about 30 kilometres southeast of Fernie on Sunday afternoon. Three survived.

Hopes of a miracle for their eight companions disappeared yesterday as police announced that seven bodies had been found.

RCMP Cpl. Chris Faulkner said the search is now a recovery operation.

“One would suspect that that is the situation here,” he said. “We’re already looking at 24 hours after the incident."

“You got eight bodies and in a small community like this, getting them down will be quite a challenge.”

Officials had acknowledged all day that time was working against the missing men, who were all from Sparwood.

Families of the men were supporting each other after receiving the grim news.

“The immediate families of most of the victims are all congregated together, in support of each other,” said Faulkner. “I believe that they all expect the worst in a situation like this.

“I think that in situations like these, searchers put the labour in front of their emotions and you almost have to set that aside and go out and do the job that you’re trained to do, that you’re asked to do and the emotional impact grips you once it’s over.” RCMP said rescuers flew over the avalanche zone at first light yesterday “and dropped hand-held avalanche bombs onto the slope to stabilize it and prevent further avalanche activity.”

Fifteen avalanche technicians scanned the site by helicopter and snow cat and were assisted by two RCMP police dogs and handlers trained in avalanche rescue operations.

About 50 searchers used dogs, three helicopters, shovels and their hands to hunt for the victims. The area has received more than 70 cm of snow in recent days.

About 30 centimetres of snow fell in Fernie on Saturday night, and temperatures rose from -30 C to O C on Sunday.

The tragedy occurred just two days after the Canadian Avalanche Centre issued a special avalanche warning to backcountry users in B.C.’s South Coast and North Shore regions for the weekend.

NAMES RELEASED

Police officially released the names of the dead Tuesday as:

• Danny Bjarnason, 28, an avid five-pin bowler. He is the only victim still missing as of Tuesday morning

• Kurt Kabel, 28. He married in June and he and his wife have an infant son. He works at a hydraulic-equipment repair company in Sparwood

• Warren Rothel, 33, father of a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. Rothel was interested in 4x4ing and in 2004 organized two mud-bog events for Sparwood

• Kane Rusnak, 30, who has a son and liked 4x4ing

• Leonard Stier, 45

• Michael Stier, 20, Leonard's son

• Thomas Talarico, 32, a new father

• Blayne Wilson, 26, who was into rodeos and hunting. He was a heavy-duty mechanic for a Sparwood company
Small B.C. town in tears as folks come together over eight dead in avalanche
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Old 12-30-2008, 11:43 PM   #2 (permalink)
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The tragedy occurred just two days after the Canadian Avalanche Centre issued a special avalanche warning to backcountry users in B.C.’s South Coast and North Shore regions for the weekend.
O.o whats that got to do with Fernie?
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Old 12-31-2008, 12:15 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Really sad and unfortunate.

Hmm... In situations such as this shouldnt snowmobilers be something like 40 meters apart?

So if theres an avalanche not all of them get swept away? I dont know specifics and im sure we all dont, Im deeply saddened to hear this but there could have been precautions towards this.
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Old 01-12-2009, 01:12 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by YanTheMan View Post
Really sad and unfortunate.

Hmm... In situations such as this shouldnt snowmobilers be something like 40 meters apart?

So if theres an avalanche not all of them get swept away? I dont know specifics and im sure we all dont, Im deeply saddened to hear this but there could have been precautions towards this.
I have a few friends that live in Fernie and are hardcore sledders. $15,000+ machines. They aren't even going out right now, they say the snowpack is way too unstable to go too far into the alpine.

From what I heard, 3 guys got stuck in an avalanche, 8 guys came to dig them out. After they got 2 guys out and were working on the third a second avalanche occurred and burried the 8 rescuers. The original 3 made it out and were unable to rescue any of the others. Sparwood is a small town and I don't think that any of the residents will ever forget this tragedy.
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Old 01-12-2009, 06:47 PM   #5 (permalink)
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It's good to hear they are not going out. Snowmobilers have become the number one group to get killed by avalanches over the past 5 years. You can cover a lot of terrain in a short amount of time. Which is great, but you don't get an idea of what is going on with the snowpack. Couple that with the fact that most groups do not have full avy gear. I've seen too many times were a group of six or more 'bilers only have one or two guys with a beacon. Sometimes they have the beacon, but no shovels, etc. Avalanche education is the last thing they go to learn. It takes an event like this to get them in a classroom. With some knowledge and experience you could easily go out in these conditions safely. Some places you are going to want to stay away from. That is how it works.

Big mistakes were made and 8 people were killed because of it. Once this was set into motion I am afraid people were going to die. The numbers should have been 2 or 3 though, not 8. I can't imagine how this community is taking this loss. I don't want to say much more because I'm already dipping into "I told you so" or insulting territory. This is a huge tradgedy. If someone wants to make a thread about avalanche safety to discuss these sort of accidents we can. I'll be happy to contribute what I know.

For these guys RIP.

Their friends and family have my sincere condolences.
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