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Lost hikers rescued by helicopter

North Shore team finds victims trapped by swollen creek

NORTH Shore Rescue plucked three men from the Fool's Gold Trail near Coquitlam Tuesday, the same trail where Vancouver hiker Tyler Wright disappeared last year and touched off the largest search operation in the province's history.

North Shore rescuers got the call from Coquitlam Search and Rescue after a beacon for three hikers went off near Debeck Creek in Pinecone Burke Provincial Park Monday. Land-based rescuers set out that day, but the terrain and the pouring rain conspired to halt their efforts, leading them to request air support from the North Shore team.

The helicopter launched, but still had trouble with low clouds, spotting nothing until the very last run before a planned refuelling stop, when the crew saw smoke from a flare near the creek. While the initial call had placed the missing hikers on a ridge, it turned out they were hidden in a valley below tree cover, said Tim Jones, team leader with North Shore Rescue.

"The three hikers were all dressed in black, green and blue, and were very difficult to see against the tree canopy," he said. "We knew it was legitimate; we just didn't know exactly where they were, and in that terrain 100 metres means everything."

The hikers, all men in their 20s from Vancouver, had been swamped by the rain and hadn't been able to cross a creek to get out of the woods. They were pulled up by the helicopter and deemed to be in good health.

Fool's Gold Trail, which leads from the Squamish area to Coquitlam, is particularly challenging, said Jones, and Coquitlam's ground rescue team had to be airlifted out of the woods due to the bad weather and steep terrain.

The North Shore crews know the area well after last year's failed search for Tyler Wright, who was last seen Aug. 10, 2010, when he set out on the Fool's Gold route and never returned. The 10-day operation was believed to be the largest search effort in the province's history, but yielded only a few footprints in the mud.

"This is starting to become a popular area again and there's a lot of challenges with the communications and the remoteness of the area," said Jones, who added that the rescue beacon was extremely important.

Although they were well equipped, the hikers in this case wore colours that were impossible to see from the helicopter, said Jones. He advised hikers to always bring bright clothing or something else that's highly visible, like a bright orange garbage bag, and to clear the forest canopy when waiting for rescuers.

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