British Columbia avalanche kills 5 snowmobilers

Courtesy of CNN

(CNN) An afternoon snowmobiling in the Canadian Rocky Mountains turned deadly for five people, after a powerful avalanche swept through and swept them away.

At least three groups of snowmobilers were out in remote, mountainous terrain near McBride, British Columbia, when the avalanche struck at 1:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET) Friday. Two people managed to activate rescue beacons — a recommended emergency tool for those enjoying backcountry snow — to alert authorities, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Two search and rescue technicians who happened to be snowmobiling then in the area “were on scene almost immediately,” the police said in a news release.

They were able to rescue several members of the three groups caught in the slide.

Rescuers and authorities still didn’t know Saturday morning, for sure, if the avalanche had killed any other people.

Cpl. Dan Moskaluk, a Royal Mounties’ spokesman, said that “six to eight other snowmobilers [who] lost snowmobiles” had been shuttled off the mountain.

British Columbia averages about 10 avalanche deaths each year, according to a 2014 report by that province’s Coroners Service. Most of those killed there tend to be from British Columbia or neighboring Alberta, and almost all of them are men.

Roughly 41% of those caught up in such avalanches were snowmobiling, 34% were skiing, and 13.5% were heli-skiing — flying by helicopter to a secluded spot and then skiing.

Avalanches can occur on their own or be triggered by humans.

That’s seemingly partly the case with Friday’s “very large, significant” avalanche near McBride, a village about 450 miles (740 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver.

Karl Klassen, warning service manager at Avalanche Canada, said this event “appears to be human-triggered,” though weather and snow conditions played a factor as well.

“There are layers of concern in the snowpack in many parts of this region (and others),” wrote Klassen on his nongovernmental organization’s website. “And a fairly significant weather event added ran and snow to the snowpack over the last few days, followed by clearing and cooling.

“This may have produced stresses in the snowpack capable of producing large avalanches.”

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