Mario Gauvin is well acquainted with the stages of hypothermia, so when the search-and-rescue manager heard that two of the teenagers his team was rescuing on Vancouver Island were found lying in the snow to rest, he knew things were serious.
The pair of young women were among five teens who became stranded on a remote logging road on Monday near Lake Cowichan, about 100 kilometres northwest of Victoria, after their four-by-four truck ran out of gas. They were all between the ages of 17 and 19.
One young man made it to a nearby town the following day, while the other four, two women and two men, weren’t rescued until early Wednesday morning, when searchers arrived on snowmobiles.
The rescue team found the two women, who had left the truck in an attempt to hike out, lying in the snow.
“It [hypothermia]comes to a point where you’re cold and freezing and you’re shivering, and then after that you get warm, so they got to the point where they said, ‘That’s enough, I’m tired,’ and they just lie down in the snow to go to sleep,” Mr. Gauvin, a member of Cowichan Search and Rescue, said in an interview Thursday.
“I don’t think they would have survived another four or five hours.”
The two women were treated for hypothermia and injuries to their feet, said Mr. Gauvin. The other two young men, who were still at the vehicle, were taken to hospital as a precaution, according to the RCMP.
The RCMP said the five teens set out into an area near Lake Cowichan, driving their four-wheel-drive truck down a logging road that was covered in deep snow.
They didn’t have any emergency supplies or warm clothes, and the area where they became stranded was out of cellphone range, said Corporal Warren Potter of the RCMP.
The temperature was hovering around freezing, and the snow was piling up.
“With no emergency equipment, such as candles, blankets, appropriate clothing, food or water, they spent the first night in the truck,” Cpl. Potter said.
On Tuesday, one of the men left the truck and hiked 14 kilometres through deep snow to the small community of Caycuse.
He called his father for help, but they could not reach the others because of weather and road conditions.
The RCMP were called Tuesday evening, but they, too, couldn’t get to the teens. The Mounties and Cowichan Search and Rescue then enlisted the help of a local snowmobiling club.
Mr. Gauvin said he received a call about 11 p.m. on Tuesday that several teens were stranded in the woods.
“He [the RCMP officer who called]said, ‘Besides snowshoes, that’s all we got. Do you know anyone with a snowmobile?” Mr. Gauvin recalled.
Mr. Gauvin said he quickly searched the Internet and found a local snowmobile club, which rounded up four snowmobile operators to help in the rescue. Mr. Gauvin waited at the fire hall in Caycuse as the snowmobilers set off into the woods.
They found the two young women first at about 4 a.m., more than 10 kilometres away from the truck. They had been hiking through the snow, one wearing light slippers on her feet, since about 6 p.m.
After bringing them to Caycuse, the snowmobilers went back for the other two teens
Four of the teens are from Duncan, while one is from Langley, near Vancouver, Cpl. Potter said.
Cpl. Potter said the Mounties respond to roughly one case a year involving someone who’s stranded in harsh winter weather without survival supplies.
“It may not be teenagers, just people who shouldn’t be there at that time when the weather turns bad,” he said.
“The weather could turn in an instant, and that area generally gets a lot of snow and a lot of rain.”