British Columbia

Snowmobilers race against time to save stranger buried alive near Terrace

A lone snowmobiler is "very lucky to be alive" after he was buried under two metres of snow in an avalanche no one witnessed.

Lone sledder buried under 2 metres of snow hadn't turned on his avalanche beacon

Regan Kardas said this Companion Rescue training course he and his friends completed in January, shown above, helped them save a man buried under two metres of snow. (Contributed/Regan Kardas )

 A lone snowmobiler, buried alive under almost two metres of snow, was rescued Sunday near Terrace, B.C., even though he hadn't turned on his beacon before triggering an avalanche in a remote location. 

"He's very lucky to be alive," said Regan Kardas, an experienced backcountry snowmobiler from Terrace who was out for a ride with friends and helped save the man. 

'Lucky to be alive'

Avalanche conditions were considerable in the northwest coastal area on Sunday, when Kardas's group came upon a pair of snowmobilers stopped in the South Douglas area, between Terrace and Rosswood.

The pair were alarmed after hearing the sound of a distant snowmobile engine die as they noticed a far off cloud of snow dust.

Kardas said it's pure luck they took notice.

The two groups of sledders immediately started searching the area for an avalanche beacon signal from beneath the snow.

"We couldn't get a signal," said Kardas. "There was nothing."

With no signal from the buried man's beacon, there were few clues about where to search.

'Gloved hand' unburied first 

But Kardas and his friends were experienced in the backcountry.

They'd recently completed a companion rescue course for snowmobilers and that training kicked in.

They started doing random probes of the deep snow.  

"It's a really small window you have," Kardas said.  "It's kinda surreal. You just do it."

The search continued for 15 minutes.

Then, their search turned up "a gloved hand."

The group dug "really fast," eventually uncovering the face and head of an unconscious man beneath 1.9 metres of snow.

Buried man was turning blue 

"He was breathing very shallow, he definitely had a blue colour," said Kardas."We just finished unburying him."

Kardas said the man regained consciousness and eventually was able to speak and stand up.

"He was a  tough old guy, a little banged up, missing a tooth. He was pretty choked up. I think he was overwhelmed with what had just happened." 

"He was quite adamant about digging out his snowmobile and getting home."

Kardas credits avalanche safety training and the two groups of snowmobilers pulling together for a rescue that beat incredible odds.

"It's a pretty sobering experience, how easy things happen out there," he said.   


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.