A lesson in preparation

Five teenagers went four-wheeling in deep snow northwest of Lake Cowichan.

  • Mar. 29, 2012 6:00 p.m.

A group of Duncan teens who found themselves stranded in the wilderness for two days are fortunate to have survived “relatively unscathed,” police say.

The five teenagers went four-wheeling in deep snow on Monday, driving a logging road known as the McLure Mainline, which is about 14 kilometres from Caycuse, northwest of Lake Cowichan.

The group — including two 17-year-old girls plus one 18-year-old and two 19-year-old males — became stranded in a remote wilderness area when their truck ran out of gas.

“With no emergency equipment such as candles, blankets, appropriate clothing, food or water, they spent the first night in the truck,” a statement released by Lake Cowichan RCMP Cpl. Warren Potter said.

“As there is no cell coverage in this area they were unable to summon assistance.”

One of the males, however, eventually walked to Caycuse and called his father.

“The father and son attempted to reach the four teens remaining, however, were unable to access the area due to the heavy snow fall.”

Late on Tuesday evening, the Caycuse Fire Department, Cowichan Valley Search and Rescue and the police were notified of the four stranded teens.

“Unfortunately, rescue vehicles were unable to reach the area due to road and weather conditions, and as such SAR enlisted the help of the Mid-Island Sno-Blazers Club, who attended the location the following day (Wednesday) with their snow mobiles,” the statement reads.

“En route to the stuck vehicle the operators of the snowmobiles encountered two girls from the group of four, who had walked several kilometres in an attempt to get home. The girls were treated for hypothermia-related foot injuries.”

The remaining two males were later rescued and taken to the hospital for routine examinations.

Sno-Blazers president Rob Hanna said three of the club’s members tracked the teens down at about 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

“We’re listed on an emergency call-out list with the RCMP and Search and Rescues up and down Vancouver Island,” Hanna said of the club that promotes snowmobiling safety.

“So we got the call at about 11:30 (Tuesday night) about teens who’d gone missing.”

The snowmobilers sprang into action, and about an hour or so later, located the teens.

“Three of them were lying in the snow,” Hanna said.

“It could have turned tragic. I think if the teens had waited any longer, it might not have turned out so well.”

Lake Cowichan Mounties thanked firefighters, SAR volunteers and the Sno-Blazers Club for their assistance in the rescue, which police hope serves as a lesson to others entering the wilderness.

“This case should stand as an example of what not to do,” RCMP say. “Always let someone at home know where you are heading, and when you will return.

“If you plan to venture into remote areas, ensure you are prepared to spend more time than you expect. Food, water, blankets, a source of heat, and extra gasoline go a long way to ensuring you are safe until help arrives.”

While the Caycuse Fire Department was driving up to the rescue, Fire Chief Bruce Wilson reports that the front drive shaft in their truck broke, leaving them stranded and with an expensive repair bill. Luckily, he says, one of the parents of the rescued kids has offered to pay for the repairs to the vehicle, saving the department  from a bill they really could not afford.

Caycuse Fire Department has a small operating budget with many of the items they use in the course of their work being donations from other fire departments or from the public.

Wison is quick to point out that nothing is normal when it comes to a Caycuse area rescue, where ATVs upside down in a ditch, people stranded in the lake or hikers falling off a cliff are just some of the incidents they have been called out for.

“People have to remember that they are in the wilderness when they are out here and it is real life, not a television show,” says Wilson.

In this instance he says the kids were not dressed warm enough for being in the woods. He is pleased that there was a happy ending to this event, but says in a situation like this, you are better to remain in your vehicle.

“Someone will know your missing and start phoning,” he says “and the first call should always be to the RCMP.”

The RCMP are trained for these situations and have the resources to initiate the rescue procedure. Wilson also noted that a snowmobile of their own would have been a great resource for them on this rescue, as well as times when they are without power and phones and need to get to people requiring medication and reminds anyone who has a snowmobile they are looking to get rid of that the department will happily accept donations.

Krista Siefken with notes from the Gazette