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Mount Elizabeth, B.C. 6069ft
Major Wilderness Search Resolves Tragedy on Mount Elizabeth.
Remote alpine peaks, wilderness valleys make
for difficult search.
The search for two missing hikers began when they failed to return from a Sunday hike up Mount Elizabeth, one of the more difficult and rugged hikes in the remote Kitimat region of British Columbia.
|Western Basin of Mt. Elizabeth|
The hikers had left for a day hike up Mount Elizabeth, a steep trail that first reaches the 1750m/5741ft summit of Little Elizabeth, in 3 to 6 hours, followed by a steep and exposed rock ridge to the 6069ft/1850m main summit of Mount Elizabeth - a long 7 to 12 hour round trip from the trailhead. As they climbed towards the summit heavy cloud began to envelop the mountain. By nightfall, when they had not returned, the local SAR teams were asked to respond.
With the hikers' car still at the trailhead SAR teams began to search the steep trail up to Little Mount Elizabeth and then on up to Mount Elizabeth peak itself. No sign of the pair was found during this initial hasty search.
Mount Elizabeth stands at the centre of a complex system of major drainages, with alpine peaks, connecting ridges, pocket glaciers, seracs, headwalls and five long, forested wilderness valleys, all radiating out from it's main summit. Given the size and complexity of the terrain it quickly became obvious that this could be a long and difficult search. Compounding the problem was the remoteness of the region, located 1300Km/810 miles North of Vancouver, B.C., as well as the mountain's close proximity to the coast, which results in it attracting heavy coastal precipitation, typically in the form of long periods of low cloud, heavy rain and early snowfall
Ariel photograph of the Mt. Elizabeth region
Searchers being briefed
A group of experienced SAR responders from throughout the region immediately responded to the call for assistance.
The closest building, the small briefing room of a local flying club, approximately 15km/9miles from the trailhead, was seconded for use as the Command Post, while radio repeaters were set up to maintain communication from the Command Post to SAR vehicles located at the trailhead.
Search teams combed the main hiking trail, alpine ridges, major drainages and summit area for three days but failed to find any sign of the two missing hikers. At this time additional resources were brought in from around British Columbia.
The request for resources was strongly supported by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Provincial Emergency Program and two major corporations, ALCAN and Telus, who generously donated food, equipment, technical support and the use of corporate jets to fly searchers to the area. Up to four helicopters were also made available, with unlimited flying time, both for searching and the deployment of searchers to their assignments.
Thursday August 29th:
SAR resources from the SW Region of B.C. were brought in to assist with planning and documentation functions, as well as team leaders and alpine specialists, to assist with the search itself. The Command Post facilities were expanded to include three networked computers running the 'Incident Commander Pro' software, two printers, a commercial photocopier, a large mobile Base radio, a radio repeater and three large tents to shelter the crowds of searchers congregating at the site. The flying club's airstrip was conveniently used to land incoming searchers.
At approximately 2pm a report was received that an alpine SAR team, searching a pocket glacier on the NE side of Mount Elizabeth, had found the body of the female hiker She had apparently fallen off a snowfield, not far from the summit of Mount Elizabeth, falling over a rock cliff onto the bergschrund at the edge of a pocket glacier. Following an investigation of the accident site the body was removed but, unfortunately, no tracks were found that could help determine the location of the still-missing male hiker.
Friday August 30th:
The search rapidly stepped up in scale as plane-loads of searchers from 16 SAR teams began to arrive at the Command Post.
Planning Team running the networked
Searchers arrive by Corporate Jet at the Command Post
Over the next four days, using the Incident Commander Pro' software, over 200 people from 16 SAR teams were checked-in, software-generated ID tags were issued, 91 search areas defined and 78 new assignments created, for a total of approximately 120 assignments.
Four IT people were dedicated to maintaining
software data entry throughout the mission. 'Incident Commander Pro's Communications
Log was used to track all mission communications, including meetings, and to
document any clues found. As each search team reported back to base their
Probability of Detection was recorded in the software.
All of the 91 mission search areas were then automatically updated for shifting Probability of Area and then instantly re-prioritized according to the software's Search Priority principle.
Searchers inspect the accident site where the
Serac's falling in Mt. Elizabeth's NE Basin
The region's extensive search areas were subdivided
according to Search Priority, geographic location and elevation, i.e. whether
they were located in the forest, sub-alpine or alpine region. This permitted the
rapid selection of alternate search assignments given the sudden changes in
weather for which the region was noted. The mountain ranges were also
methodically over-flown by helicopter and almost 200 digital images taken, to
help assist in defining and locating potential search areas.
Despite the steepness and ruggedness of the terrain no searchers became hurt, however one search team narrowly escaped injury when an ice serac above them crashed into the alpine basin they were searching. Fortunately they took shelter behind a rock wall and escaped injury.
Saturday August 31st.
Low cloud and rain descended onto the mountain range, forcing a rapid change of plan to 'ground-based' searching, using helicopters where required, to fly the search teams to the starting point of their lower-elevation search areas. Occasionally tracks were reported, all of which were digitally photographed and examined back at the Command Post. None of them matched the footprint of the male hiker.
Searcher's check their assignments
The low cloud descended further, almost to the valley bottom, making helicopter deployments frequently impossible. Search teams were again sent to lower-elevation 'escape routes' off Mount Elizabeth, but did not find any tracks or useful clues. The alpine region - a high probability area - remained off-limits due to the poor weather, bad visibility, long access times by ground and the lack of a rapid evacuation option for searchers who might become injured at high elevation.
Dense forest in Mount Elizabeth's
After 6500 searcher-hours of searching had been completed it was regretfully decided to suspend the search. The persistent bad weather, tired searchers, increasing safety concerns and the decreased chance of survivability after 8 days in these glaciated mountains, all led to this sad but inevitable conclusion.
As the searchers packed their bags to go home fresh
snow was briefly glimpsed to have fallen in the alpine basin, signalling the
start of the fall/winter season in Northern British Columbia.
Monday September 23rd.
A group of alpine specialists from local SAR teams and from B.C.'s Lower Mainland, took advantage of a break in the weather to return to the high alpine areas of Mount Elizabeth, in order to complete searching these high probability areas. Soon after they were deployed the searchers discovered the body of the male hiker, now revealed at the edge of a bergschrund that had shrunk back during the intervening weeks of heavy rain. It appeared that he had fallen approximately 90 ft /27m over a steep cliff from one of the summit ridges.
Given the confusing nature of the ridges near the summit it was surmised that two hikers became disoriented in the thick cloud and attempted to leave the summit by the wrong ridge, after which they both, separately, fell to their deaths at different locations on the mountain.
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SAR Technology Inc.
Phone: (604) 921-2488 Fax (604) 921-2484 email@example.com
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