SAR Technology - Ground SAR Service
- Ground SAR Response -
Searching Whistler's alpine glaciers
Hiker Found Alive after Six Days in Whistler's Mountains
Stormbound and lost in Whistler's Alpine
On Friday 20th August Samuel Black, a 39 year-old university professor from Vancouver, set off on an overnight scrambling trip into Whistler's Brandywine Mountain region. The weather was warm and clear as
Sam parked his car and followed the trail up the Brandywine Valley and onto the subalpine ridges at the 6500ft elevation. During the evening the long spell of clear weather ended and heavy cloud began to descend onto the mountain range. By Saturday morning the complex, glaciated 7500ft elevation mountain range, including Brandywine Mountain, Metaldome Mountain, Power Mountain, Mount Fee and Mount Cayley, were all shrouded in thick cloud.
When Sam did not return for an evening engagement in Vancouver on Saturday night his family and friends became concerned. However
Mount Fee 7,548ft from Brandywine Ridge
Sam was fairly well equipped, as he had taken a tent, sleeping bag and was wearing good outdoor clothing. He had also advised his friends to wait one extra day, in case he was delayed, before calling the police. After waiting an anxious day by Sunday
afternoon Samuel had still not returned, and so, with low cloud still clinging to the mountains, the police were notified and
a SAR response initiated..
Soon after notification on late Sunday afternoon a search helicopter was dispatched to the Brandywine region but only managed to find intermittent breaks in the thick cloud cover. The high mountain range, in a region where southern maritime and northern outflow winds combine, is known locally for it's bad weather and heavy precipitation. By nightfall, after only sporadic glimpses into the region, the helicopter returned to the Command Post. There were no new clues as to Sam's location.
On Monday 23rd August the bad weather continued and local responders attempted to deploy ground teams into the Brandywine search area. Thick clouds hampered their search efforts while also severely restricting the searching of the alpine region from the air. Sam's family and friends were interviewed and a number of alternative potential destinations in the area were identified. Late in the afternoon the ground search teams returned to the Command Post, reporting only 10 meter visibility in the rugged Brandywine region.
Brandywine Search Area Map
News of the Alpine Search
On Tuesday 24th August the search effort was increased by calling in more responders. The lower logging roads in the Squamish River Valley, on the West side of the Brandywine range, were patrolled, but their were no signs of Samuel Black having exited in that direction. Detailed interviews with family and friends indicated the distinct possibility of an expanded search area. Samuel was reported to have previously climbed the neighboring Metaldome Mountain and was said to be interested in travelling to Grizzly Lake, below Powder Mountain, as well as having considered a high level alpine traverse south from Grizzly Lake, past the steep spires of Mount Fee, to Cypress Mountain. Access to all of these areas was possible from his known starting location in the lower Brandywine Valley.
By now responders had been searching for three days, placing a heavy toll on their services.
Creating Search Assignments
On Wednesday 25th August the search continued with occasional flights possible over the lower Brandywine Valley, but generally the main high alpine areas remained shrouded in cloud and
impenetrable by air. Twenty ground searchers were
dispatched into the region but again found the visibility to be extremely poor. In a region of high alpine peaks, cliff bands, deep ravines and open glaciers with exposed crevasses, safe travel was severely restricted by the poor visibility. By mid afternoon the ground searchers started to return to
the Command Post, frustrated again by the lack of opportunity
to travel far into the alpine region.
SAR Technology-Advanced Mission Support arrived early Wednesday evening to provide additional planning and organizational support to this challenging search operation. A four computer network running 'Incident Commander Pro' was installed at the Command Post to handle the advanced planning, logistic and operational aspects of the search.
By midnight a software-prioritized set of expanded search assignments had been created and additional advance base camp equipment readied for immediate deployment at daybreak.
Sam Black (at center) on the NW Brandywine Glacier
At 0770 hours on Thursday 26th August twenty-six skilled responders were checked-in and briefed on their Optimized Mission assignments. A helicopter was dispatched to the Brandywine range and a 4-wheel drive mobile Command Post located alongside a Weatherhaven tent at the trailhead in the lower Brandywine valley.
Searchers took advantage of a brief early morning lifting of the cloud to fly into the Brandywine area but by 0800 hours the cloud was once again descending over the mountain range. The new search assignments generally accessed the range via the upper Brandywine Valley.
As the helicopter crossed over the Brandywine ridgeline searchers spotted a tiny figure on the Northwest Brandywine Glacier, he was located between steep rock walls on one side and open crevasses on the other. The helicopter quickly landed and soon identified the lone person as the missing hiker, Sam Black. Suffering from mild hypothermia, dehydration and a lack of food, Sam was flown back to the advanced base to be checked out by a paramedic, before being flown on to the Whistler Health Care Center for detailed assessment and treatment.
By midday Samuel Black was released from the clinic to
his waiting family and friends, who had endured six long days of worry and stress until this very fortunate outcome. After giving interviews to a host of local media
Sam walked into the Command Post and generously invited all of the searchers present to
A successful end to a major Ground SAR mission.
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