Six dead, two missing in Canada avalanches

Mon Dec 29, 2008 6:10pm EST
 
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Searchers recovered the bodies on Monday of six of the eight snowmobilers missing since they were hit by a pair of avalanches in Canada's Rocky Mountains.

The two men still unaccounted for since Sunday's accident about 40 km (25 miles) south of Fernie, British Columbia, are believed buried in the snow, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

"There are six bodies recovered, and we're still looking for two more," said RCMP Cpl. Chris Faulkner, who acknowledged it was very unlikely the missing men were still alive.

Eleven snowmobilers were caught in two slides in Harvey Pass, a backcountry recreation area popular with local residents in southeast British Columbia. Three people dug themselves out and suffered minor injuries.

The snowmobilers were residents of the nearby coal mining community of Sparwood, British Columbia. They were experienced in winter travel in the rugged area, but ignored warnings of a high danger of avalanches in the region, which has received more than 70 cm (28 inches) of snow in recent days.

The threat of new slides slowed rescue efforts and technicians used explosives to stabilize the mountain snow before ground crews could safely begin searching the site on Monday morning.

It took two of the men who survived about 20 minutes to dig themselves free. They then rescued a third man, but the danger of additional avalanches forced them to leave the area on foot before they could dig for anyone else.

Radio beacons carried by the victims help search crews locate their bodies in the snow, police said.

(Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson)

 
<p>The morning sun reflects off the Rocky Mountains November 30, 2006. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>