British Columbia

Search for missing B.C. snowshoers called off after 5 days

The search for two B.C. snowshoers missing since Christmas Day at Cypress Mountain Resort has been called off.

West Vancouver Police said crews were told to stand down just before 4:30 p.m. local time on Friday

Roy Tin Hou Lee, 43, left, and Chun Sek Lam, 64, have been missing since Christmas Day when they set out on snowshoes from the Cypress Mountain Resort parking lot. (West Vancouver Police)

The search for two B.C. snowshoers missing near Cypress Mountain Resort has been called off.

West Vancouver Police said crews were told to stand down just before 4:30 p.m. on Friday. 

"At this point, due to the weather and the amount of snow that has fallen in the area, we believe that searchers on the ground have covered all areas that can be safely searched and all areas by aerial search, as well," said Const. Jeff Palmer.

"We don't feel we can justify continued risk to volunteers when there's very little expectation of positive outcome," he added.

The officer said the families of Chun Sek Lam, 64, and Roy Tin Hou Lee, 43, have been notified. The pair had been missing since Christmas Day.

 "It's a very difficult decision. It's not easily taken," Palmer said. "It's very difficult for the families. We wish we could've had a better outcome for them."

He said that the missing-persons file is still open and that future search operations could be a consideration. 

Situation 'frustrating' for rescue crews

North Shore Rescue (NSR) spokesman Mike Danks said crews are disheartened.

"​It's really frustrating because so much effort was put in [to searching] and I feel like a lot of this could've been prevented if a trip plan was in place," he said. "It doesn't help to reflect on that, but in future hopefully people will see that you absolutely have to be prepared and you have to tell people where you're going."

North Shore Rescue spokesman Mike Danks said rescue crews were plagued by poor weather as they searched for the missing hikers this week. (CBC)

Danks said a "huge accumulation" of snow and high avalanche risk made searching especially difficult.

"Our condolences go out to both the families, and I hope this doesn't happen again. It's a really tough thing to go through," he said.

Danks had previously said Friday would be a make-or-break day for rescue efforts, and that the priority was "to get as many crews in as we safely can and cover as much of some of that more heinous terrain by air." 

Poor weather plagued the search for Lam and Lee since the two men went missing last week.

They went snowshoeing together on Dec. 25 and never returned. Rescuers were called after their vehicle was discovered in the Cypress parking lot. 

Avid hikers

Man Ming Chan is friends with both Lam and Lee. He told CBC News the pair joined his hiking group in 2013.

"We love hiking so we just go together," Chan said. "Usually it's in a group of about 10 people."

He said the hikers in the group made a point of travelling "well-prepared and well-equipped," and usually left trip plans with family and friends.

Chan said he's often reminded Lam and Lee to do the same.

North Shore Rescue waited for the weather to improve before resuming the search for Lam and Lee at Cypress Mountain Resort. (North Shore Rescue/Facebook)

"I told them many times, even if you go by yourself, you should let the other people know where you're going."

Chan said he's spoken with people who were in contact with Lam and Lee the day they went missing, and said the pair weren't carrying equipment for an overnight trip.

"They likely packed light. No overnight gear, definitely no tent," he said. "I think they were just prepared for a day hike ... six to seven hours at most — down the mountain before sunset."

'They're all terrain traps'

Danks said Friday's plan was to move search teams and equipment by helicopter into the steep slopes around upper north Strachan Creek, Lembke Creek and the Montizambert drainage — areas they hadn't been able to search thoroughly yet.

"The challenge is that they're all terrain traps," he said, noting about 20 NSR volunteers were out on Friday.

"You're basically funneled in to a very steep, narrow gully. So we want to be very careful putting any of our members in there. If something does go sideways we have access to the aircraft so we can long line our guys out, which is key," he said.

Danks said it was still possible the missing men have survived five frigid nights lost on the mountain. 

"It really depends if somebody was injured, how high on the mountain they are and if they are in a safe area. There's a lot of variables and I think the key thing is that they need the will to survive," he said. "As rescuers, we need to stay positive."

With files from CBC's Kamil Karamali and Belle Puri