A late-night call to rescue an injured snowmobiler in the backcountry near Barkerville Friday, Dec. 25 made for a particularly busy Christmas for many first responders and volunteers from Quesnel and Wells.
Gerald Schut, search manager with Quesnel Search and Rescue (QSAR), says they received a call from B.C. Ambulance Service and the RCMP around 9:52 p.m. on Dec. 25 to help extract an injured snowmobiler in the Groundhog Lake area near Barkerville.
Schut, who worked with search manager Bob Zimmerman and was not part of the crew that went out to the snowmobiler near the lake, says QSAR does not have enough members who are trained as snowmobile operators, so they had to re-deploy this task to Prince George Search and Rescue (PGSAR), which has a side-by-side with tracks on it and a couple of snowmobiles.
QSAR brought a command vehicle and support vehicle and set up a command centre at the Barkerville Historic Town and Park parking lot, while PGSAR brought a command vehicle and its snowmobiles and side-by-side. Schut says security workers at Barkerville allowed them to use their phone from time to time, which helped a lot, as there is no cell service in the area, and QSAR’s radio communications were not working properly.
“From what I understand, the Wells Volunteer Fire Brigade had already been out there to assess the person who had been hurt by the snowmobile, and that’s why B.C. Ambulance was involved in it at an early stage of this task,” said Schut. “It’s not terribly far, but apparently, the road was rough enough that they could not transport the snowmobiler with their injuries.”
Schut says QSAR members got out there about 1 a.m. Dec. 26, and with the PGSAR members, they determined they had two options to get the snowmobiler out.
“We could have used B.C. Ambulance’s new helicopter that’s parked in Prince George, but we would have to wait for daylight to happen and that was getting to be a pretty long time for that to happen,” said Schut.
A Royal Canadian Air Force Search and Rescue Cormorant helicopter was dispatched from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron at CFB Comox.
“They came out, and they could not land at first because we were starting to get snow at that point,” said Schut. “They came back to Quesnel and landed and re-fueled, and they waited a couple of hours and then went back there around 5 a.m.”
Schut says the Cormorant landed on Groundhog Lake, and using their side-by-side with tracks, members of the PGSAR team brought the snowmobiler from the cabin where they had been keeping warm to the helicopter. Members of 442 Squadron transported the injured snowmobiler to the hospital in Prince George.
“I do not know what their situation is now,” Schut said on Dec. 27. “They said they were OK, but the injuries were serious enough that any kind of rough movement would have caused some issues.”
Schut says there were probably more than 20 people involved in this task, including the RCMP, B.C. Ambulance Service, 442 Squadron, firefighters and search and rescue volunteers. About eight QSAR volunteers were deployed.
A lot of co-ordination is involved in a task like this, and Schut says everyone worked very well together.
“It works well,” he said. “I’ve been involved for over 30 years now, and in the last 20 years or so, this has really become quite a well-oiled machine, as they say. A lot of collaboration and co-operation have made it so much better. It works really, really well. We work with the other teams really well, and we train together quite often. That adds to the safety aspect. Whether it’s working in avalanche terrain or in swift water, it’s nice to know who’s beside you working with you.”
Schut expressed gratitude to everyone involved in the Christmas night task, a sentiment echoed on the QSAR Facebook page.
“Thanks to the RCMP, Wells Fire Brigade, Prince George Search and Rescue, Quesnel Search and Rescue, B.C. Ambulance, Barkerville Historic Town and Park staff and the Royal Canadian Air Force 442 Squadron for all their hard work, very long hours and exceptional professionalism,” QSAR said in a Dec. 26 post.
Know before you go
As we get more snow and people plan their winter activities, Schut stresses the importance of checking avalanche.ca for avalanche warnings before venturing into the backcountry.
“It’s important that people who are heading out into the backcountry, whether it’s snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, whatever they want to do out in the wilderness, that they are aware of the avalanche situation out there,” he said. “It’s important that they check that before they go out, especially now that we’re getting more snow.”
Schut also encourages people to visit adventuresmart.ca.
AdventureSmart — and its suite of five programs, including the Hug-a-Tree program for younger children — is a national prevention program focused on reaching Canadians, and visitors to Canada, who participate in outdoor recreational activities
Schut was part of the provincial board when AdventureSmart started in B.C. The website includes a section for winter and winter activities, which provides information about what to know before you go, what to do, what to bring with you and other training you should take.
“It gives you a lot of good information,” said Schut. “Even the most seasoned person should have a look at it once in a while and see if they’ve forgotten anything. There is the three Ts, we call it — training, things to take with you, and the trip plan. The trip plan is extremely important as far as going out in the wilderness that you do an online trip plan and you submit it to a friend or a relative or somebody you can trust so that when you go out in the wilderness and you don’t come back within a specific time, they know where to send us.”