VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Search crews on Tuesday recovered the last of eight snowmobilers killed by avalanches in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, aided by one of just three men who survived the deadly slides.
The man was found buried under about 1.5 meters (5 feet) of snow in the same area where the seven other victims were recovered on Monday in a popular backcountry recreational area about 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Fernie, British Columbia.
The victims were all from the coal mining town of Sparwood, British Columbia, which has been hit hard by the Christmas holiday deaths of the men, most of whom were long-time residents of the small community.
“The community of Sparwood, I know, will be glad to have all of the bodies in and they’ll get on with their grieving process,” said Cpl. Chris Faulkner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “They’ll get on with their preparations for memorial services, and sometime in the next few days, few weeks, they’ll get on with life as well.”
Technicians used explosives to stabilize the snow around the accident site in southeastern British Columbia to protect search crews from further slides as they recovered the bodies on Monday and Tuesday.
The area has been hit by heavy snowfalls in recent days and is still considered dangerous.
The snowmobilers were struck by two separate snow slides on Sunday. The first buried seven members of the group, and the second struck while their companions were trying to dig them out.
Three men were eventually able to free themselves, but the threat of additional avalanches forced them to retreat before they could rescue anyone else.
Police said one of the survivors returned to the site on Tuesday to give crews a better idea where to find the final victim.
Friends of the men said they were all experienced in backcountry travel and aware of the risk of avalanches.
“It’s just a sad thing,” said Randy Roberts, whose son-in-law Danny Bjarnason was one of the victims “It’s an accident that can happen at any time.”
The men all carried radio beacons designed to aid searchers trying to find them in the snow.
Faulkner said that, while the avalanche was tragic, it was also unlikely to discourage residents of the region from enjoying their easy access to the wilderness.
“The chances of them being caught in one, while minimal, are always there. For the pleasure of being out there they’re willing to take that chance,” Faulkner said.
Reporting Allan Dowd and Jeffrey Jones, editing by Rob Wilson