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Weather delays search for 3 experienced climbers missing in B.C. backcountry

Rescue crews are on standby, waiting for a break in the weather so they can send in helicopters to where the mountaineers were last seen.

Rain and dense fog making it difficult for searchers to access complex terrain

A red search and rescue helicopter flies with clouds in the background.

A search and rescue effort is underway for three experienced mountaineers who didn't return from their climbing trip in Garibaldi Park, near Squamish, B.C.

In a statement, B.C. RCMP said the climbers were expected to return on Friday.

Since then, Squamish RCMP and Squamish Search and Rescue (SSAR) have been attempting to locate the group but heavy rain, dense fog and avalanche risk have made the search efforts difficult.

According to SSAR, the trio were last seen on Friday morning on the very difficult terrain of Atwell Peak, located on the southern edge of Mount Garibaldi.

The climbers are highly skilled, said SSAR manager BJ Chute.

'Serious mountaineering'

"We're talking about climbing with ropes, ice axes, crampons — that type of thing. We're not talking about people who went out for a leisurely walk or, you know, to climb the Grouse Grind," he said.

"This is serious, serious mountaineering," he added.

RCMP contacted SSAR for their help on Friday evening, at which point SSAR began their investigation, Chute said.

Then, on both Saturday and Sunday, rescuers attempted to fly and climb in but the efforts were called off because of the weather, Chute said.

SSAR said it also tried flying a drone to locate the missing people, and got the assistance of a military helicopter, but neither could handle the weather. Search and rescue crews from Whistler and the North Shore have also supported the team, Chute said.

"All of those efforts were deemed unsafe and ultimately grounded," he said.

The last known communication with the group was on Friday morning, according to SSAR.

"It's difficult in that area, communication is often an issue even with satellite communication devices, so the fact that we have not had communication is not a telltale sign of any sort of outcome," Chute said.

Rescuers will be on standby on Monday, waiting for a break in the weather that might allow them to safely travel into the area.

"If the weather continues [to be bad] like it is, which is what we are forecasting, then we're unfortunately not going to be able to get into that area," Chute said.

Chute said that anyone heading out for recreation on trails needs to be mindful that it's "still winter up in the mountains," and that search and rescue operations are difficult in bad weather.

"This inclement weather means that helicopters cannot fly right now and that's going to slow down any search and rescue operation. So people need to really think about what they're doing."


Tessa Vikander


Tessa Vikander is a CBC News reporter covering local and national news. Previously she reported for Toronto Star, Reuters, IndigiNews and CTV News. You can contact her at tessa.vikander@cbc.ca.

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