Johnsons Landing slide yields 2nd body

The B.C. Coroners Service has confirmed a second body has been found at the site of a landslide in southeastern B.C. Two women are still missing.

2 women still missing beneath mountain of mud


  • At least 3 houses crushed in mudslide
  • Rescue operation shifts to recovery mission
  • B.C. premier offers family condolences

The B.C. Coroners Service has confirmed a second body has been found at the site of a landslide in southeastern B.C.

Officials say the body of a female was discovered at about 1 p.m. PT Monday about three metres from the Webber family home in Johnsons Landing, B.C.

The woman's identity has not been confirmed, but it's likely the body of Rachel Webber, 17, or Diana Webber, 22. The remains were found close to the home and close to the first body recovered, believed to be that of their father, Valentine Webber, 60.

Petra Frehse, 64, is also believed to have been trapped when the landslide hit Thursday. Frehse is a German retiree who would spend part of her year living in a home next door to the Webbers. At least three houses were engulfed when the wall of mud, rock and trees cascaded down a hillside Thursday morning.

B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said the recovery teams are working through tonnes of rocks, trees and dirt and have had to dig down to depths of about 10 metres.

"I'll be honest, I wasn't optimistic we would be able to locate remains," said Lapointe. "For the sake of the family and community, I am grateful to people assisting at the site."

Officials say debris pile around the Webber home is eight to 10 metres deep, and they are surprised at how quickly they have located the bodies of the missing.

Warning system in place

For days since the slide, dozens of rescuers searched the slippery terrain under a relentless downpour.

A view from across Kootenay Lake shows the slide into the community of Johnsons Landing. (Submitted by David Alves)

With the discovery of a man's body in the rubble near the foundations of a home that was swept away in the slide late Sunday, the RCMP handed the operation over to the B.C. Coroners Service.

Searchers working at the slide site Monday were hindered by unstable soil conditions.

"There's been a system put in place with lookout posts and a warning system so that searchers below can be alerted at a moment's notice if there's some more activity higher up the mountain," said Jeremy Zandbergen with the Ministry of Forests.

"There is still some material perched up there, and there are eyes continuously on that mountain to double-check the safety of the crews down below."

The frantic search for the Webbers and Frehse began shortly after 11 a.m. PT Thursday in the tiny community 70 kilometres northeast of Nelson and 450 kilometres east of Vancouver. The search had to be suspended for the first half of the day on Friday as well as Saturday morning, because of further landslides and heavy rain in the area.

The rescue mission involved helicopters, geotechnicians, canine units, divers and industrial crews at various times.

Possible email warning

The B.C. Ministry of Forests said over the weekend that it had received an email from a Johnsons Landing resident on the morning of the day the slide occurred.

In the email the woman, whose name wasn't released by the ministry, said she noticed "surges of chocolate-coloured water that came down Gar Creek," each bringing down a significant number of logs and debris and causing a jam.

"As soon as the log jam formed, gravel began to be deposited behind it," she said. "The entire level of the creekbed has now been raised at least (1.8 metres) in that area."

The woman wrote later that the whole creek was flowing over and down her driveway and made reference to a conversation with a friend, who had search and rescue experience, who told her to stay on high ground.

Hours later, the mountainside gave way.

The Canadian Press

Impossible to predict

B.C. Premier Christy Clark sent her condolences to the family and friends of the victims in a statement.

"At times like these, it is difficult to give up hoping for a miracle," Clark said. "Communities and governments have provided every possible response to this disaster, and nature has conspired against us in many ways."

Clark also weighed in Monday on accusations that more could have been done to warn Johnsons Landing residents about the potential for a slide.

The Opposition New Democrats have argued the B.C. Liberals have cut more than 1,000 forest service positions since 2001, which could be hampering the province's ability to prevent or provide early detection of landslides.

But Clark dismisses those allegations, saying experts are telling her no amount of study could have predicted the deadly Johnsons Landing slide.

Clark added the sheer volume of water and run-off remaining in B.C. mountains makes finding all the potential slides nearly impossible.

Clark said provincial officials are on high alert for new slide risks and will be conducting a thorough review of their handling of the Johnsons Landing situation to determine whether more could have been done.

With files from The Canadian Press