Whitehorse Daily Star

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John Mitchell

Skier would likely have died overnight, RCMP believe

A rescue mission saved a Dawson City cross-country skier from a certain death on Monday evening.

By Pierre Chauvin on December 3, 2015

A rescue mission saved a Dawson City cross-country skier from a certain death on Monday evening.

Search and rescue officials told the Star this morning she was found with serious injuries but is now safe at the town’s hospital.

Relatives of the skier, whose name was not released, phoned the RCMP at around 6 p.m. that day after the woman hadn’t checked in by the scheduled time.

Within 20 minutes of that call, search and rescue personnel were on their way.

About an hour later, a team was able to locate the woman.

She had been skiing on the Midnight Dome trails, before cutting through the bush.

For unknown reasons, she went down an embankment leading to the Klondike River.

“We expected the worst,” John Mitchell, the Yukon Search and Rescue lead in Dawson, said in an interview today.

Mitchell was co-ordinating the rescue, with other agencies involved.

The embankment was quite steep he said, with the last seven metres of the 18-metre embankment dropping down vertically.

“We expected her to have serious injuries.”

The team could hear the woman calling for help but couldn’t see her.

She had fallen on the ice of the Klondike River, east of the bridge leading out of the Dawson area.

The crew, on snowmobiles, tried to reach her via the Klondike Highway but couldn’t do so.

A second team was sent in to repel down the embankment.

Following her tracks, they finally got to her.

The first crew, tip-toeing through thin ice, join them shortly afterward.

“She had managed to make it a couple hundred metres along the river and tried to get across the ice to the highway,” said Mitchell.

“(But) she had fallen on clear ice and couldn’t get back up.”

The time of the operation, at night, and the terrain itself made for a difficult rescue.

The Klondike River itself wasn’t completely frozen, with dozens of small open-water ponds present, Mitchell said.

Rescue crews brought the woman back to shore, administered her first aid, and made a fire to keep her warm.

“She was starting to stop shaking,” Mitchell said, a dangerous sign signaling a person is falling into hypothermia.

Mitchell noted the rescue was a community effort involving the local RCMP, EMS, Dawson City firefighters, YSAR and even a local resident, Gerry Grenon. He plowed a nearby road to allow for ambulances to access the area.

The firefighters brought in a fire truck with powerful lights to help prepare the staging area.

At around 10:45 p.m., rescue volunteers moved the woman from the shore to the ambulance in a toboggan – about 500 metres, Mitchell estimated.

“It was an excellent effort by all involved,” Dawson RCMP Sgt. Dave Morin said in a press release.

“The skier would have likely succumbed to hypothermia if out overnight, as she was laying on bare ice and lightly dressed for daytime skiing.”

The fact that rescue teams already had an approximate location, instead of creating a full-on search and rescue operation, sped things up, Mitchell said.

That speaks to the importance of letting friends of relatives know of a precise location, and return time when going out.

“Things can change so fast in a routine little excursion,” said Mitchell.

“You don’t need to be 200 miles away in the bush.”

Bringing a cell phone is also crucial. In this case, the woman was within cell phone range of Dawson, he noted.

Yukon Search and Rescue provides tips and guides on its website to stay safe during the winter time in the Yukon.

Visit yukonsar.org/being-outdoors/winter for more information.

Comments (7)

Up 0 Down 0

Laura Vriend on Dec 16, 2015 at 8:45 am

Thank you so much for saving my Aunt!

Up 19 Down 0

Olinda Vriend on Dec 5, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Thank-you for saving my sister!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Up 40 Down 0

Lorrina Mitchell on Dec 4, 2015 at 2:57 am

We live in a northern community of everyday heroes. So many people wear several hats and almost all will step up to the plate in any time of need. Well done, all.

Up 35 Down 0

Groucho d'North on Dec 3, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Kudos to the Klondike SAR team, EMS and all the volunteers. Reading about all the strife in other parts of the world, I'm glad to live here where many people in the communities come together when required.
Be grateful and carpe diem.

Up 64 Down 0

Former Ranger on Dec 3, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Way to go everyone, that was very impressive. You guys rock!

Up 57 Down 2

Thomas Brewer on Dec 3, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Well done everyone. Very happy there's local search and rescue in some communities.

Up 30 Down 29

Dan Davidson on Dec 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm

I believe that should be "rappel" not "repel". Minor point.

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