SHUSWAP - Every minute of daylight counted as search and rescue crews raced to the aid of two snowmobilers during two separate incidents in the Shuswap this week.
The first call came in around 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27, with a report of an injured snowmobiler, possibly with a fractured spine, at Blue Lake near the Owl’s Head Recreation Area outside Sicamous. Shuswap Search and Rescue manager John Schut says the the helicopter winch rescue team from Vernon was contacted immediately for mutual aid.
“The terrain was very treacherous. It’s a steep descent into Blue Lake. We would’ve had to pull the patient on a toboggan up a steep grade — he could have been possibly paralyzed by the time we got him back. His best case scenario was to be picked up by a helicopter,” Schut says.
While a crew was dispatched from Vernon Search and Rescue, Schrut’s team got ground troops ready in case the helicopter couldn’t respond due to snowy weather conditions and poor visibility.
“There just happened to be a clearing for them to come,” Schut says.
The patient was picked up by the helicopter and airlifted to hospital. According to Leigh Pearson, with Vernon Search and Rescue, the transport went well and while the patient did suffer a back injury, there was no sign of paralysis.
“A case like that you can never be too careful,” Pearson says. “Whenever there’s a broken bone of any kind, the option if we do not have a helicopter is to carry them out in a toboggan and it’s just misery for the poor injured person.”
Search and rescue was called out the very next day, Dec. 28, to another snowmobile incident in the same general area. This time, the patient was located at Morton Peak, about 15 km south east of Sicamous in the Owl’s Head Recreation Area. Reports state the man had suffered a possible heart attack. Due to the remote location, Shuswap Search and Rescue again requested assistance from the Vernon helicopter team.
“We had reports there was fog up there but somehow the helicopter managed to get in,” Schut says. “They had to package up the patient in six minutes and get out of there because darkness was coming in.”
In both cases, rescuers were under the gun to retrieve the patient and get back to the airstrip in Vernon before darkness fell.
“We must be back on the ground before dark, and because of the time these calls came in there were zero spare minutes,” Pearson says.
The Vernon Search and Rescue helicopter is part of a two-year pilot project between Emergency Management B.C., Vernon SAR and Wildcat Helicopters Inc., based in West Kelowna.
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