Body of Eighth Man Found in Canadian Avalanche

By Beacon Staff

FERNIE, British Columbia – The eighth and final body was found Tuesday from a group of snowmobilers buried by weekend avalanches in western Canada’s backcountry, police said.

The chance of 28-year-old Danny Bjarnason still being alive under the snow two days after the accident had been slim, with temperatures in the area hovering between 10 and 19 degrees.

The bodies of Bjarnason’s seven companions were found Monday near Fernie in British Columbia’s Elk Valley, about 550 miles (885 kilometers) east of Vancouver.

Eleven men, most of them in their 20s, were swept away when back-to-back avalanches hit Sunday afternoon. Three men freed themselves, digging with their bare hands, and left the area when they feared another avalanche would hit.

It did, soon after they hurried away.

All 11 men came from the nearby coal-mining town of Sparwood, population 4,000, and knew each other, Mayor David Wilks said. Many of them had families, including two whose wives gave birth to their first children a few months ago.

The mayor said his town was devastated by the deaths of the men, all skilled outdoorsmen.

In an emotional news conference Tuesday in Fernie before Bjarnason’s body was found, Randy Roberts, Bjarnason’s father-in-law, said the men were as prepared as they could be for an emergency. All had shovels and emergency transmitters designed to help locate them in case of an avalanche.

Roberts said no one in the group ever questioned whether it was safe to go.

“You can never predict (avalanches),” Roberts said.

But the Canadian Avalanche Center had issued an alert Sunday saying conditions in the region of the deadly slides were “very touchy” because of 27 inches (68 centimeters) of new snow combined with a weak snowpack.

The first avalanche Sunday buried seven of the snowmobilers while they were resting at the foot of a hill.

The other four snowmobilers heard their shouts, hurried over and started digging when they were hit by a second avalanche. Two men dug themselves out and pulled a third man free.

The three survivors were distraught about leaving the others, Wilks said.

One survivor, Jeff Adams, went out with the search team Tuesday, a spokesman with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.

Roberts told the news conference that no one was to blame.

“Nobody, especially (the survivors) . . . nobody’s at fault, don’t blame yourself,” he said. “It’s an act that happens.”