When a sledder on Yanks Peak near Wells didn’t make it back from a planned trip, Quesnel Search and Rescue (QSAR) began preparing to search for the missing man.
Gerald Schut is a search manager with QSAR. He said they were called around 9 p.m. on Nov. 22, after the rider’s friends called the RCMP.
Search and rescue crews from Quesnel, Prince George and Williams Lake all took to the mountain to search for the rider, Mike Harbak, the next day, assisted by sledders from the Wells Snowmobile Club.
“We knew the fellow … wasn’t in danger of dying at that time — if it was 40 below, we would have acted a lot quicker,” Schut said. “Because of certain criteria, we will not roll until it is safe to do so.”
After spending the night planning how the groups would search, Schut made the trip out to near Yanks Peak to ensure the search area stayed undisturbed by other snowmobiles.
Schut said while there were a lot of people heading into the area, it was Harbak’s friends and members of the snowmobile club wanting to assist the search.
“They were more than willing to wait until we had our people down from Prince George to give them direction,” he said. “That was the best thing they could possibly do for us. We’ve had times where family members or the general public goes running into the bush looking for a lost person, and they just mess everything up.”
Search and rescue crews on the ground had use of a helicopter, which Schut said saved hours off the search for Harbak.
“For the whole duration, [the helicopter] could not see the top of Yanks Peak — it was fogged in,” Schut said. “The helicopter managed to find a hole in the clouds and flew in and spotted him after a few tries.”
The search was headed up by Prince George Search and Rescue, as the Quesnel group does not have a snowmobile team.
“We’ve lost our snowmobile team that we’ve had for years; it’s just sort of dwindled away,” Schut said. “We’d like to get it back up and running again.”
Schut said Harbak did exactly what missing people should do in this situation — stay put and focus on staying safe and warm.
It’s even the focus of a national campaign aimed a young children to “Hug a Tree” if they are lost in the wilderness.
“We will find you, don’t try to find us, and that’s what this guy did,” Schut said. “He did the right thing, he stayed with his machine. Some people have lit their snowmobiles on fire just to keep warm, and it sends a bit of a signal to us.”
Schut said while he wouldn’t call any rescue efforts “textbook,” this rescue went pretty smoothly.
“It did come together just right,” he said.
While the avalanche risk is low right now, Schut encouraged all riders to check avalanche.ca (which is updated daily) before riding to evaluate any risks.
Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org