Two helicopter crews that were nearby when a heli-skiing chopper crashed on Monday in the B.C. backcountry located the wreckage and swiftly rescued the four survivors, a search manager said.
But the bodies of the three victims who died remain on the mountain and a search team is working with police and the Coroners Service to retrieve them, Terrace Search and Rescue manager Dave Jephson said Tuesday.
The victims of the crash of a Northern Escape Heli-Skiing flight outside Terrace in west-central B.C., 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 doesn’t name the other two Italians who died.
Jephson said that the crash had affected the tight-knit community of Terrace in “awful ways.”
He said crews were standing by Tuesday afternoon to return to the site of the crash but freezing rain was preventing flights from the local airport.
“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 was a “great company” and the crash and its aftermath had 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 Tuesday 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.
HeliCat Canada said eliminating all risk is “impossible,” but the “industry does its best to mitigate” it with knowledge and expertise.
“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.
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.
Northern Escape Heli-Skiing, based in Terrace, said in a news release Monday that three people died when one of its helicopters crashed, but didn’t say how many others were aboard.
B.C. Emergency Health Services said three air and five ground ambulances were sent to the crash scene.
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.”
By Darryl Greer in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2024.