1 Nelson police officer dead, 1 critically injured in avalanche near Kaslo
Constables Wade Tittemore and Mathieu Nolet were struck while skiing northwest of the village
One police officer was killed, and a second critically injured in a backcountry avalanche near Kaslo in southeast B.C. Monday.
Just after noon Tuesday, the Nelson Police Department (NPD) identified the officer who died as Const. Wade Tittemore, 43, a married father-of-two who had been with the force for four years after moving from Calgary.
The second officer, Const. Mathieu Nolet, 28, remains in critical condition with broken bones and internal injuries.
"Nelson is one of the smallest municipal police forces in Canada, and we are like one big family. The impact of the death of Const. Tittemore has a profound effect on the force and our community," NPD Chief Donovan Fisher said at a news conference Tuesday.
"Our deepest condolences go out to his family."
Officers were experienced skiers, chief says
Tittemore and Nolet, both experienced skiers, took snowmobiles to the Empire Cabin area before skiing to the Jardine SE3 mountain. The avalanche struck around noon Monday and swept up the men in a "bowl-type area," Fisher said.
Avalanche Canada rated the slide as Size 3 — big enough to destroy cars or small buildings.
Fisher said Nolet recalled what happened when the chief visited the hospital Tuesday morning.
"Constable Nolet actually hit a tree as he was coming down," the police chief said. "The way he hit it, he kind of came back up a bit, so he had one arm out of the snow ... obviously, the impact of the tree caused a significant number of his injuries, but it also probably saved his life."
Nolet waved his arm. It caught the attention of another group of skiers nearby, who rescued him and started first aid.
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The group found Tittemore some time later, but he had been buried under around two metres of snow.
"Efforts to save [his] life were unsuccessful," police said.
Tittemore had a wife and two elementary-school-aged sons. He had been in policing for 15 years, having served 11 years with the Calgary Police Service before moving to B.C.
Both Tittemore and Nolet were carrying personal locator beacons — satellite-synced devices that can send an SOS signal with your location to rescue agencies.
The village of Kaslo is surrounded by the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges, about an hour's drive north of Nelson, B.C.
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Help from bystanders was 'instrumental'
Mark Jennings-Bates, a manager with Kaslo Search and Rescue (SAR), said his team got the call about the avalanche around lunchtime on Monday and set out right away.
Multiple helicopters were deployed, along with the long-line rescue team, which was able to bring both men out of the backcountry.
Jennings-Bates says the first helicopter landed within about 45 minutes of the call. When crews arrived, he says Tittemore, the officer who had been buried, had no vital signs, and Nolet was suffering "very serious thoracic and abdominal trauma."
"The rapidly evolving situation was aided by a member of the public who had cellphone service on the mountain," read a statement on the Kaslo SAR Facebook page, adding that the bystanders' help was "instrumental."
Jennings-Bates estimates about 30 rescue volunteers were involved in the operation, either on the mountain or logistically behind the scenes.
Simon Horton, a senior forecaster with Avalanche Canada said the region has a "tricky snowpack" with weak areas deeply covered by large storms over the holidays.
Prime minister, public safety minister offer condolences
The Nelson Police Board initially said the men had been on snowmobiles, but officials have since confirmed the men were skiing when the avalanche hit.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose brother Michel died in an avalanche about 30 kilometres from Kaslo in 1998, offered condolences to the officers' families on Tuesday morning.
"I'm incredibly saddened to hear about the death of a police officer near Kaslo, British Columbia, yesterday," read a tweet.
"To their family and friends, Canadians are with you. And to the officer who was injured, we're wishing you a fast and full recovery."
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said in a statement Tuesday that the death of the officer is a tremendous loss for Nelson and for policing in B.C.
"Our hearts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of the off-duty Nelson police officer killed [Monday],'' Farnworth said.
"On behalf of all British Columbians, we send our deepest condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy. Our thoughts are also with the officer who was critically injured, and we wish them well as they begin to recover.''
With files from Jessica Cheung, Julia Wong and The Canadian Press