January 2, 2012 by staff
Duncan MacKenzie, 30, died after being injured in an avalanche and trapped in the mountains for much of the night near Pemberton, B.C. Rescue efforts were hampered by weather and darkness.
RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen confirmed the skier was dead when rescuers reached him early Friday morning.
Officials at the Whistler Blackcomb resort said MacKenzie had been an employee since October 2000 and was a keen athlete and outdoor enthusiast. The expert skier was also featured in professional videos and photographs shot in the Whistler area.
MacKenzie was injured when an avalanche swept through a group of four skiers on Thursday at about 3 p.m. PT near Caspar Creek, about 25 kilometres east of Pemberton and about 120 kilometres north of Vancouver.
“It was going to be their last run down the hill of the day,” Thiessen said. “At that particular point this avalanche hit, taking this young man with the slide. There were two skiers above him that were not impacted and another skier at the bottom of the hill that chose not to take that last run of the day.”
The skiers, whom police described as experienced and from the Whistler-Pemberton area, were travelling in the backcountry, despite the high avalanche danger ratings for alpine areas in recent days. They were not skiing at a resort.
When the avalanche hit, MacKenzie was swept down the mountain about 1,800 metres, police say.
“When the other three skiers found the male, he was severely injured and unconscious,” Thiessen said. “One skier stayed with him, while the other two went to seek help, administering CPR until help arrived many hours later.”
The skiers managed to notify police about the incident just as darkness fell around 4:30 p.m., but the injured skier and his companion remained on the mountain as rescuers attempted to reach the remote site.
“I think everybody can imagine what it would be like to be left on a mountain with your ski buddy while hoping that he is going to survive while they wait for help to come back,” said Thiessen.
The first rescue attempt using a helicopter by the Whistler/Pemberton search and rescue team was turned back by darkness.
A second attempt was made by a search and rescue helicopter from CFB Comox, but it had to turn back because of poor weather conditions, John Millman, from the Canadian Forces Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre Victoria, told CBC News.
The RCMP then organized a ground-based search and rescue team, but darkness and weather hampered the team’s efforts overnight.
Finally, after several hours of difficult travel by snowmobile and then by skis in the dark, the rescue team reached the pair about 12 kilometres from the nearest road early Friday morning.
MacKenzie’s body was finally removed from the site Friday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, this is an example of the extreme, extreme risk in the backcountry area of British Columbia,” Thiessen said. “The avalanche risk is high. The warnings have gone out. Unfortunately this gentleman paid with his life.”
CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said overnight temperatures in Pemberton dipped to -3 C and roughly 10 centimetres of snow fell. The temperature at the higher elevation where the skier was injured would likely have been a few degrees cooler.
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