The mayor of a municipality in Germany told Global News on Thursday that three people from his community are dead after an avalanche occurred near Invermere, B.C. a day earlier.
“All of us in our community are deeply upset and feel deep sorrow,” Walter Bauer said in a written statement.
Bauer is the mayor of the municipality of Eging. In his statement, he said he learned of what had happened on Thursday morning.
“I myself am shocked, stunned and still cannot believe how cruel life can be,” he said. “The loss of a human being always affects the relatives and friends deeply, but a sudden and so tragic death of three people is even harder to cope with.
“All our sympathy and grief in these difficult hours is of course especially for the relatives and surviving relatives. Our thoughts are with them.”
Later on Thursday morning, the RCMP confirmed the three fatalities as well. Police said the dead were among 10 heli-skiers who got caught in the slide.
On Wednesday night, the RCMP first confirmed at least one person was killed in an avalanche while heli-skiing near the mountain ski resort of Panorama near Invermere, B.C.
The area is about 150 kilometres southwest of Banff, Alta.
Police said they first received reports of the slide shortly after 12:30 p.m. local time.
As of Wednesday night, the RCMP said officers were still working to determine who all was involved and where they are from, adding various emergency personnel were deployed to the area.
At least 1 dead, multiple people injured after avalanche at Panorama ski resort
RK Heliski, the company involved in the incident, said nine guests and one guide were caught in the avalanche.
B.C. Emergency Health Services said four ambulances were deployed to meet helicopters at Invermere, and transported four patients to hospital.
On Thursday morning, RCMP Cpl. James Grady said everyone in the group has been accounted for, and the four injured people are expected to recover.
“One of the seriously-injured was the guide,” Grady said.
He added that the RCMP was still in the process of notifying the families of the skiers who died.
‘Extremely sad, heavy-hearted day’: President of B.C. heliski operation on fatal avalanche
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, RK Heliski’s president as well as the outfit’s general manager offered a statement and took questions from reporters about the incident.
“It’s with heavy hearts that we’re here today,” said RK Heliski president Tom Brinkerhoff. “(It’s the) saddest day, not just of our lives, but also here at RK for the tragedy that’s taken place.”
Brinkerhoff said the outfit has been operating in the area for about 30 years and that he personally has skied in the area for about 40 years.
“The guests and guides that ski with us each season are part of our family,” he said. “It is impossible to put into words the sorrow we feel.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved, their loved ones and our community.”
Brinkerhoff said the company’s top priority is safety and it remains “committed to best-in-class safety processes and protocols.”
Graham Holt, the general manager of RK Heliski, described what happened and the aftermath as “the most difficult time period in my career.”
He noted the slide is believed to be a “skier-triggered avalanche.”
“In any outdoor activity, you can’t eliminate 100 per cent of the risk,” Holt said, adding that the outfit’s guides are trained and certified for what they do and train customers as well, while also providing them with safety equipment.
Avalanche Canada currently lists the avalanche danger in the region as “considerable.”
In a statement, the group said this was a size 3 avalanche, which is “big enough to bury and destroy a car, damage a truck, destroy a building, and break trees.”
Avalanche Canada said the avalanche happened on a southwest aspect at alpine elevation (approximately 2,500 metres). It was “a deep persistent slab avalanche that ran on basal facets.”
“A dangerous snowpack structure exists in the B.C. Interior that can produce large human-triggered avalanches,” Avalanche Canada said. It explained the deep weak layer “has caused many high-consequence avalanches since its formation and has already claimed numerous lives.”
Wednesday’s slide marked the sixth deadly avalanche in B.C. since the season began in the fall.
“This accident has once again made us painfully aware that all life is fleeting and that fate sometimes shows no mercy,” Bauer said.
Doug Clovechok, the member of the B.C. legislature who represents the riding of Columbia River-Revelstoke, was emotional on Thursday when he noted that this year’s avalanche season has been one of the province’s worst in decades.
“When these tragedies occur, it shakes the entire community,” he told the legislature. “And I know right now, there is deep sadness.
“Even the most experienced backcountry skier can encounter trouble. It’s vital that people check the warnings, carry the right gear and be mindful of the dangers that come out there.”
–With files from Global News’ Simon Little and Karen Bartko and The Canadian Press