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A damaged snowmobile retrieved from the scene of the avalanche by helicopter on Sunday. (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
A damaged snowmobile retrieved from the scene of the avalanche by helicopter on Sunday. (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Rescuers begin search for survivors of deadly avalanche in B.C. Add to ...

RCMP in Revelstoke, B.C. now say that two men - not three - were killed in an avalanche that also injured 30 people participating in an extreme snowmobiling event on a remote part of the mountain.

Of those injured, 19 have been released from hospital, one remains in critical condition and three are in serious condition, RCMP Corporal Dan Moskaluk said.

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The quest for more survivors resumed Sunday morning with a fly-over to determine whether it is safe for four search-and-rescue teams and five dog teams to begin combing the three-kilometre-long slide site.

Time is running out for anyone still buried.

"I don't think we ever want to give up hope," Cpl. Moskaluk said. "Certainly there is faint hope at this time. However, being realistic ... we're referring to this as a recovery-slash-rescue operation."

With more than 200 people gathered at the Turbo Bowl at the foot of Boulder Mountain when the avalanche struck, RCMP feared the death toll could rise significantly.

However, after an overnight door-to-door search of hotels in the area, RCMP are encouraged by the number of snowmobile riders now accounted for. There were only about 40 rooms left to canvass when Cpl. Moskaluk spoke to reporters just after 9 a.m. local time.

"So that's drastically down from some of the feared numbers that we might be encountering today," he said.

RCMP have not yet released the names of the two men confirmed dead.

"Our condolences and sincerest sympathies go to the families that are experiencing this tragic incident," Cpl. Moskaluk said.

The scope of the tragedy that befell the informal extreme-snowmobiling competition known as the Big Iron Shoot Out remained unclear.

One survivor who came from Fort St. John,B.C., described a "big white wall of snow" coming down on his group of about 20 to 30 snowmobilers.







<object width="610" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/7fIXUcJiXZo&hl=en_US&fs=1&"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/7fIXUcJiXZo&hl=en_US&fs=1&" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="610" height="385"></embed></object>Watch YouTube footage of last year's Big Iron Shoot Out






The man, who did not want to give his name, said they saw the slide coming and had only a few seconds to react.

He dove behind his snowmobile, and ended up partially buried. Members of his group dug him out.

Ervin McKeen, a 62-year-old from Nanton, Alta., was nearby when the avalanche occurred. He said there were about 150 people in the area where the snow came down.

It was pandemonium, said Mr. McKeen, who has been caught up in three slides.

He said one man was screaming "where's my son" as he desperately searched the area. Snowmobiles were tossed around everywhere, he said.





I told my mom to shut it down and don't have anything to do with this event because it's going to kick you in the ass. Adam Burke, 20




The experienced backcountry user said he used his equipment to lead survivors with shovels to places in the snow where avalanche-beacon signals - a piece of equipment that gives off an electronic signal from under the snow - indicated people might be buried.

Adam Burke, 20, a member of the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, said his mother and many of his friends were up there at the time, but his mother was OK.

Mr. Burke said he chose not to go, because of the dangerous conditions in the mountains this weekend.

"It was high risk and just the other day it was extreme," he said Saturday by telephone.

"I told everyone to shut the mountain down. ... Just how I've been riding and I've noticed a lot of slab avalanches and I've caused a lot of little stuff over the season and it's just progressively gotten worse.

"I told my mom to shut it down and don't have anything to do with this event because it's going to kick you in the ass."



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Mr. Burke said his friend's father was one of the people unaccounted for in the slide near Revelstoke, located about 300 kilometres west of Calgary and about 400 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

Kathy Berlingette, owner of Smokey Bear Campground Resort in the area, said the event was in a remote place and everyone involved had to drive their snowmobiles to get there.

She said the slide actually occurred in a place called Turbo Bowl, at the foot of Boulder Mountain.

"One fellow that I was talking to said that it resembled a war zone," Ms. Berlingette said.

"The audience was below this large mountain, there's a whole group of people watching the snowmobiles go up the hill and an avalanche broke through," said Ms. Belingette, who wasn't there but had guests who were.

All five of her guests were fine, she said, and were helping in the recovery effort.

"They're all very shook up; there were three fatalities. There were parents that took children up there to watch this event," Ms. Berlingette said.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre issued an avalanche warning for the South Columbia region, which includes Revelstoke, for Saturday and Sunday, after a powerful storm blanketed the region with snow.

"This is the first real snow storm we've experienced in months. Saturday and Sunday are forecast to be blue sky days. Recognize that blue sky weather and pow (powder snow) have a way of twisting our thoughts causing us to make poor decisions. Right now is when consistent good decision making really counts in the mountains," the centre warned on its website.

Greg Johnson, from the avalanche centre, said there had been a lot of close calls recently and the new snow would make the backcountry very dangerous.

There have been a few avalanche fatalities in the B.C. backcountry already this season, but nothing compared to last winter, when there were two dozen deaths. There were 13 avalanche deaths the previous winter.

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