Rescue crews say a man is lucky to be alive after being struck by a falling ice block in the North Shore backcountry Thursday.
The 911 call came in just after 5 p.m. Two brothers visiting from New Jersey had climbed to St. Mark’s summit on the Howe Sound Crest Trail and were returning back to the Cypress Mountain parking lot Thursday afternoon when they stopped for a rest and to fill their canteens from Mitten Couloir.
As they sat, a natural snow bridge over the creek that had formed over the winter collapsed, sending boulder-sized pieces of ice tumbling about six feet down onto the victim, according to assistant fire chief Martin Leduc.
The man’s brother frantically dug him out of the frozen debris, and called for help. Crews were preparing for the worst when it was reported as an avalanche that had resulted in a broken back.
North Shore Rescue scrambled a Talon helicopter and West Vancouver Fire and Rescue members used an access road to get near the victim. There, they found the 26-yaer-old New Jersey man with a fractured ankle and difficulty breathing, which could have been a result of hypothermia setting in, Leduc said.
West Vancouver crews put him on oxygen, splinted his ankle and put him in a stretcher. North Shore Rescue arrived soon after and prepared the man to be airlifted out.
“Because he was crushed by this large ice block, if you will, we decided to sling him out, based on his injuries and getting him to the hospital as quickly as possible,” said Mike Danks, North Shore Rescue team leader.
The area is well known to North Shore Rescue volunteers as a trap that out-of-bounds skiers get themselves caught in often.
“I think he was really lucky and I think it should serve as a warning to others to recognize there is still snow in the backcountry. Do not spend any time below any snow bridges or big deposits like that because it is going to be melting out fast and this is exactly what can happen,” Danks said.
The man was also lucky to be in a location where rescuers could access him relatively quickly, Leduc said, adding the injury could have been avoided entirely if the brothers had kept to the marked trail.