Accident Reports April-May 2011
Fatality, Crevasse Fall, Mount Snowdome, Jasper National Park, May 2, 2011
A party of three skiers were ascending Mount Snowdome as a day trip from the Icefields Parkway. Out front, the person breaking trail fell 40-45 metres in a hidden, poorly-bridged crevasse. All three members were wearing harnesses, but the rope was not being used. After an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the person in the crevasse, one member skied out to the Snowcoach road and made an emergency call to Jasper Park Dispatch for a rescue. The other skier remained at the crevasse.
Emergency personnel from both Jasper and Banff National Parks were quickly organized and flown to the crevasse-fall site. As the area is notorious for being heavily crevassed, only 2 rescue members got out on-scene initially and probed a safe working area. The remaining 6 personnel flew in immediately afterwards, while flying out the third skier who had remained on-site to guide in the rescuers.
Using a winch system, the rescue team lowered a team member into the hole to try to reach the fallen skier. The crevasse narrowed to less than 30cm in width in places, before coming to a very tight constriction where the skier had stopped. Working in a very confined space, the Parks team utilized all the tricks in the book to try to get the skier unstuck from the constriction. After 2 hours of working on the skier, the team was able to free and raise the person to the surface. At this point, the patient was now unresponsive, without a pulse, and had a core temperature below 25° Celsius.
Battling an incoming storm, a helicopter was able to retrieve the patient and 3 rescuers. They were flown out to the Icefields Center, where the patient was transferred to EMS and taken to Jasper, then Edmonton. The patient was declared deceased in Edmonton.
The remaining 5 rescuers spent the night in a storm next to the crevasse-site, and then skied out via the Saskatchewan Glacier the following day in white-out conditions. It was several days before the weather cleared enough to allow the Jasper team to fly back to the site and retrieve all the rescue equipment that had been stashed.
© Parks Canada
The southwest slopes of Mount Snowdome are known to be stripped of snow by strong winds that race across the Columbia Icefield. The snowpack on the main icefield was up to 3 metres in depth, whereas the snowpack was just over 1 metre in depth at the accident site. This area also holds many large, open crevasses that get hidden by late winter storms. These storms give the false impression of a smooth, uniform slope that has no crevasses.
Many people travel on glaciers unroped. Ropes should be used to protect oneself from falling into a cold, icy tomb when: you have poor visibility; you have limited knowledge of the terrain you are travelling through; the snowpack depths are shallow (less than 2 metres); there are obvious sags and depressions in the slope. There are more reasons to wear a rope on a glacier than not. If a rope had been used by the party, there would likely have been a positive outcome to this accident.
Airplane crash, Kicking Horse Valley, Yoho National Park, April 27th, 2011
A single engine Cessna 185 was being flown from Vulcan, Alberta to Springhouse, BC (10 miles south of Williams Lake, BC). The pilot was alone on board with his dog, Rusty. The plane was being tracked with a hand-held SPOT device that had been logging locations every ten minutes. The last location was recorded near the Vaux Glacier in Yoho National Park at 07:59 MST. The plane was overdue for arrival at the airport in Springhouse, so a Parks Canada Visitor Safety (VS) Specialist was contacted and a search was initiated.
The Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in Comox, BC had already been contacted and were preparing to launch aircraft to search. The Parks Canada VS Specialist informed the RCC that there was helicopter search and sling rescue capability within the Park, and were asked to assist in the overdue plane search. A helicopter was dispatched from Canmore with three VS Specialists on board, and two VS Specialists were put on standby. A loud pinging from the downed aircraft ELT was heard in the vicinity of the Boulder Compound area in Yoho. A Griffin 412 helicopter, dispatched by RCC, was already in the area, and a Buffalo Rescue 456 and Cormorant Rescue 906 aircraft were enroute. Once the Buffalo came on scene, they were able to pinpoint /vector the ELT signal and direct the Parks Canada helicopter to a side drainage of the Otterhead River. Searchers spotted the plane, which had crashed into trees on the edge of an avalanche path. Two VS Specialists were heli-slung onto the scene and determined that the pilot was deceased. The RCMP and coroner were contacted, and permission was given to remove the body from the site. A third VS Specialist slung in, and the body was removed to the Boulder Compound for the RCMP and coroner to deal with.
/ © Parks Canada
The next day, April 28, two VS Specialists access the crash site via snowmobile and skis to search for the missing dog, which had survived the crash. The dog, Rusty, was located and was reunited with the family of the pilot.
On June 7th, three VS Specialists returned to the accident site and slung the aircraft wreckage out of the crash site.
Mountain flying can be a dangerous activity. There are many variables in the mountain environment, and when something goes wrong, it can be difficult to recover. This is not a standard response for the Parks Canada VS crew, but it shows the diversity of situations that the VS team may find themselves dealing with. Rusty was very lucky to have survived this crash.