NORTH OKANAGAN - The B.C. Coroners Service has finally released its findings into the 2014 death of a Coldstream man buried in an avalanche near Cherryville.
Adrian John Cleary, 34, was snowmobiling with five friends in the Keefer Lake Lodge area on March 8, 2014 when an avalanche came down on them, coroner Chico Newell says in a report released this week to the public.
Newell says the friends were riding single file across an open cutblock when one of them noticed a "big white snow cloud coming down the slope, yelled and pointed."
“The snowmobile of the person following Mr. Cleary got stuck on the bank just above the logging road. Mr. Cleary had looped up and around apparently to assist the stuck… snowmobiler,” Newell says.
All of the men were wearing airbag backpacks, but Cleary’s didn’t deploy. One of the friends reported seeing him pulling at the airbag deployment cord.
Once the avalanche settled, one person went for help while the others searched for Cleary. Just before 4 p.m., about two hours after the avalanche struck, rescuers found him. He was still warm and pink, but had no pulse. Resuscitation efforts were ongoing as Cleary was transported first by helicopter, and then by ground ambulance to Kelowna General Hospital. He could not be revived.
According to the coroner’s report, the group had considerable avalanche knowledge and “concerns for the snow conditions were said to have influenced the group’s decision to go out on snowmobiles rather than out skiing.” Newell also says the group did not dig a snow pit — a safety precaution used to assess snow conditions. There was also no indication that Cleary completed an equipment check of his pack.
“The group had reportedly crossed the slope ‘hundreds of times,’” Newell says. “The feeling of the group about the avalanche hazard on the slop ranged from "we knew we were in a fuckin’ dumb spot” to "did not feel overly concerned.”
Investigation revealed the cord of Cleary’s airbag backpack was pulled, but the bag did not deploy. The backpack and Cleary’s avalanche beacon were later examined in Germany and it was discovered that the deployment cable was not correctly assembled — something that would not be visible to external inspection. Properly assembled, the airbag deployed within five seconds and met the acceptable function requirements. The avalanche beacon was found to be working properly.
Newell found that Cleary died of asphyxiation due to be buried in the avalanche. He classified the death as accidental and made no recommendations.
Cleary was a member of the North Okanagan Cycling Society, which builds, maintains and advocates for new trails. He worked as a nurse at Vernon Jubilee Hospital and coached downhill mountain biking. He leaves behind his wife, who was pregnant at the time with their first child.
According to a report from the Coroners Service on winter activity deaths between 2007 and 2016, an average of 23 people lost their lives annually. Of those, nearly half were related to snowmobiling and 45 per cent were avalanche-related.
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