By Darryl Greer in Vancouver
A passenger on a helicopter that crashed north of Terrace, B.C., on Monday used a guest radio to notify the heli-skiing firm of the accident, the company’s president says.
John Forrest with Northern Escape Heli-Skiing said Tuesday that two other choppers were near the crash site in the B.C. backcountry, they located the wreckage and joined rescue efforts for survivors.
Forrest, whose voice was choked with emotion during a news conference, said he couldn’t confirm the identities of three people who died in the crash.
The four survivors were taken to a local hospital before being transported elsewhere in B.C. for higher levels of care, he said.
The victims of the crash have been identified as three Italians.
Italy’s news agency ANSA quotes sources as saying one of those killed is Heiner Junior Oberrauch, while his brother Jakob Oberrauch was among the four survivors who police say were badly injured.
Jakob Oberrauch is the CEO of Sportler Group, an outdoor sport clothing company.
ANSA reports that he is in hospital and conscious.
The news agency didn’t name the other two Italians who died.
Forrest said those on board the chopper were “quite experienced heli-skiers,” but hadn’t flown with the company before.
He said the company is pausing operations, but expected to resume its business eventually.
“I’ve been a mountain guide for a long time and I’ve been doing activities in the mountains for a long time, and there’s so many wonderful experiences that are generated by what we do out there,” Forrest said.
“Taking our guests out sometimes for the first run and the joy on their face and the expression on their face reminds me that it’s worthwhile. But like all other adventure sports, there’s some risk in it, and no matter how hard we try, we just can’t eliminate it.”
Terrace Search and Rescue manager Dave Jephson said Tuesday that the bodies of the three victims who died remained on the mountain, as poor weather hampered efforts to get back to the site.
He said the crash had affected the tight-knit community of Terrace in “awful ways.”
“Everybody in the community knows everybody. Everybody in the community supports everybody,” Jephson said. “We were just on a search-rescue practice last night and three people in the truck that I was driving in either knew somebody from (Northern Escape), knew somebody from the hospital or knew somebody who was involved. You know, that just shows you the type of community that we are in Terrace.”
Jephson said Northern Escape is a “great company” and the crash and its aftermath have been “brutal.”
“We do a lot of stuff with Northern,” he said. “They’re going through a very difficult time at this point.”
HeliCat Canada, an industry group for helicopter skiing operators, said in a statement that heli-skiing is an inherently risky activity.
But the risks, the group said, don’t lessen the loss or “decrease our sadness” over the crash.
“An accident like this is a tragic loss that impacts everyone, including the operators, guests, communities and our entire industry,” HeliCat Canada’s statement said. “Although these fatalities are rare, it breaks our heart to have them occur.”
The trade group’s statement said the industry is governed by a “sophisticated and robust regulatory environment,” involving regular audits and safety standards.
The association said it activated a peer group known as the “mountain community critical incident stress management” to “support Northern Escape Heli-Skiing in their response to this traumatic event.”
Terrace Mayor Sean Bujtas said on social media that the four injured people were in critical condition when they arrived at the city’s Mills Memorial Hospital, which declared a mass-casualty Code Orange event over the crash.
RCMP said Tuesday that the four were in serious condition, but Northern Escape president Forrest said two were considered to be “critical” and two were in “serious condition.”
Premier David Eby thanked first responders in a social media post, and said news of the crash was “heartbreaking” and British Columbians were thinking of victims’ families.
The downed chopper was part of Kelowna-based Skyline Helicopters’ fleet and company president Teri Northcott said in a statement Tuesday that the accident has caused “profound grief.”
The company, the statement said, “will continue to provide support in any way that it can. It will also work closely with the RCMP and other authorities as the cause of the incident is investigated.”
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it has deployed a team of investigators to the site of the crash where its investigators will be “gathering information and assessing the occurrence.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2024.
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