Value of search and rescue in B.C.

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by Jeff Davies, Coast Mountain Magazine

Julie Abrahamsen doesn’t look like a troublemaker. In news photos, she looks, in fact, like the picture of Scandinavian innocence: eager smile, long, blonde hair, blue eyes. But in the British Columbia court of public opinion, Abrahamsen was sentenced to swift justice.

On a mild and overcast day in January 2015, with temperatures hovering around freezing, the 20-year-old Norwegian ventured out into the backcountry of Blackcomb Mountain, following a group of hikers, past a sign warning them to be prepared and take the proper safety gear. She soon became separated from the group and lost her way. But rather than backtracking, she simply continued downhill, searching for a way out; a natural inclination, perhaps, to anyone used to travelling in the more populated mountain terrain of Europe, but it is dangerous and potentially fatal in the vast British Columbian backcountry. For three days, Abrahamsen plodded on, finding shelter the first night under a rock, the second under a log and the third under a tree. Incredibly, she even tried to cross a swollen and icy stream and ended up wading and swimming downstream.

Search-and-rescue news articles

The volunteers of BC search-and-rescue programs watch over those who explore BC’s massive hinterland year-round, the same recreationalists who generate $1/5 billion in annual provincial revenues.

Abrahamsen had been in the mountains alone two nights before the authorities were alerted. And by this time, the weather had closed in. Vincent Massey, a 30-year veteran of Whistler Search and Rescue (SAR), describes the conditions as “hosing torrential West Coast rain.” Whistler SAR had to wait another day to get a chopper in the air. By the time searchers headed out, they had little hope of finding her alive. But they spotted her tracks leading to the stream, up and over a log jam, and then re-emerging downstream.

“So we got out of the helicopter at one of these big long jams,” Massey recalls, “and we put on our touring gear and went after the tracks for an hour, hour-and-a-half, until we found her hunkered down under a tree.” She was exhausted, wet, but very much alive “and grateful to know her three-day ordeal was over,” says Massey. The searchers whooped with joy. Abrahamsen was sheepish about having to be rescued. “Very, very humble,” Massey says. READ MORE

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