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Limited daylight challenges Kaslo search effort in fatal avalanche

Rescue crews had a very short window to rescue two Nelson police officers caught in an avalanche on Goat Ridge, just north of Kaslo. 

Kaslo Search and Rescue manager Mark Jennings-Bates says the call came early Monday afternoon from Victoria, giving rescue crews a short window of daylight to rescue Wade Tittemore, 43, and Mathieu Nolet, 28, who were skiing when the slide happened  

“The immediate thought was we don’t have enough daylight. The call came in at 12:15 and we lost daylight around 3:45,” Jennings-Bates says. “We responded very quickly by getting an avalanche technician up the mountain to take a look at the terrain and make sure it was safe.”

He says events, and weather, can change very quickly after an avalanche so getting to the officers and tending to them had to be done right and by the book.

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“Once the site was cleared we were able to get a second helicopter to provide immediate care to Nolet and Tittemore,” he says. “Once we had the medical team in place we could then worry about the extraction of everyone in the area.”

Bates says conditions for the rescue were difficult, and it was thanks to skiers nearby they were able to locate Nolet and then later found Tittemore. 

“A group of five skiers happened to be in the area and saw movement in the avalanche area, and that was the surviving officer,” he says. “When they found out there was another officer they quickly looked for him, and he was at the bottom of the avalanche debris. He was two and a half meters down in the snow.”

Bates says rescuing a person from that far down is possible, but rare.

“Rescue at that depth is certainly possible, but at that depth we start to question whether there will be any vital signs,” Bates says.

Tittemore died while Nolet is in hospital in critical condition.

Bates says he highly cautions anyone who decides to go out on their own into the backcountry since conditions are unpredictable and can change drastically at any moment.

“The only question people need to ask themselves is are you prepared?” he says. “At a minimum people should have avalanche rescue training, and have the equipment required to self rescue. Search and rescue might not be there right away, so you need to educate yourself on what to do.” 

“Most of the incidents in North America happen in BC, because of the terrain,” he says. “The largest [number] of accidents, in the backcountry, happen right here.”

The Nelson Police Association has fund, so people can donate, to assist the family of Tittemore, and Nolet as he recovers in hospital.

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