An accident involving a snowmobiler with an apparent broken leg has Blue River heli-ski operator Mike Wiegele once again asking for tighter standards for the snowmobile industry.
“Giving consideration to the time, the location, the injury and the lack of emergency rescue equipment by the sledding group, it was fortunate that the injured sledder came out alive,” Wiegele said.
The accident occurred on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 19, in the Smoke Creek drainage southeast of Blue River.
The injured sledder had been snowmobiling with a group when he and his machine apparently rolled down into the forest below.
A SPOT emergency device was activated to request help via satellite.
RCMP passed the request onto Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing in Blue River.
“I requested two helicopters to the site, with one as a backup because the rescue call came late in the day (15:20). There was a lack of details as to the nature, type and location of the accident,” Wiegele reported.
When they arrived at the scene they found that it was a narrow open area or meadow, adjacent to a steep south-facing upwards slope of approximately 50° plus. The meadow was near the top of the tree line at approximately 7,000 feet elevation. The weather was overcast with flat light, and the injured person was in a steep area of obvious avalanche terrain and high danger in poor snow stability. According to Wiegele, the sledders were high-lining in what he described as exceedingly hazardous terrain.
The rescuers found the injured sledder wrapped in blankets but showing the early signs of hypothermia. He apparently had not been moved in about two hours. With the light fading, the procedure was “load and go,” said the heli-ski operator.
The rescue crew made a trail about 100m up the hill to where the injured man was, stabilized his injuries, then slid him down to where he could be evacuated.
The injured man was flown by helicopter to the medical clinic in Blue River, where he was treated by a doctor who was a guest at the resort. He was then transported by ambulance to hospital.
According the Wiegele, the snowmobilers had no equipment (such as a leg splint) to administer first aid or to transport the injured person to a pick-up location. They had no method of communication other than the SPOT device, he said. Apparently the sledders did little or nothing to help during the rescue and, in fact, some continued to high-line the adjacent slopes.
“It is the observation and opinion of our safety committee that a catastrophic accident with multiple injuries and fatalities, of similar or larger magnitude as the Revelstoke shootout two years ago, will occur,” Wiegele said.
Such an incident could involve 50 or more fatalities and would tarnish reputation of all winter recreational activity operators and of B.C. tourism as a whole, he felt.
The snowmobile clubs and organizations within the North Thompson Valley are not adequately prepared for emergencies, he said. According to Wiegele, the latest incident was the third emergency rescue MWHS has been called upon to perform so far this season. He said not one rescuer from the snowmobile community was seen at any of those three rescues, or at similar rescues the heli-ski company has performed over the past few years.
“Appropriate government authorities must take immediate action by initiating and implementing Worksafe BC law of safe travel in the back country,” Wiegele said.
“If people and operators do not comply with this law, they put themselves, us and the province at the highest risk of potential liability. They must be held accountable for their actions.”
Six Wells Gray Search and Rescue members also responded to the SPOT emergency call. They were stood down at the SAR Hall in Clearwater when it was determined that Mike Wiegele helicopters had arrived on the scene and had evacuated the injured snowmobiler.