Hikers rescued after three-day search
BY JASON VAN RASSEL, CALGARY HERALDAUGUST 19, 2011
Three days and tens of thousands of dollars later, rescuers found three Calgary hikers unharmed after they became lost in Kananaskis Country.
It was a happy outcome, but authorities said the costly and frightening ordeal could have been avoided if the group equipped itself with an emergency beacon that costs roughly $100.
"It was a three-day-long, arduous search," said RCMP Sgt. Patrick Webb.
It was also an expensive one. Webb estimated it cost $13,000 to charter helicopters used in the search - a figure that doesn't include wages and other expenses.
The effort began on Sunday, when family members reported three women, aged 33, 38 and 40, hadn't returned the previous day as planned from a three-day hike in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Kananaskis Country wardens searched the area from the air for four hours before calling off the operation as darkness descended.
The next morning, a second chopper flight searched the same spots as the previous day before moving on to a wider area.
On the ground, three teams of searchers from Kananaskis, the RCMP and B.C. emergency services looked for the women. Poor weather prevented additional teams from participating in the ground search, as well as further aerial searches using the helicopter.
Webb said the ground search teams weren't able to make it back to the trailhead and spent the night in a backcountry patrol cabin.
Authorities stepped up the search Tuesday morning. The RCMP hired two helicopters, and British Columbia sent more searchers to the area. At 7: 45 a.m., a Kananaskis warden in one of the helicopters spotted the missing party on the B.C. side of the provincial boundary, by the Palliser River near Beatty Creek. They were tired and dehydrated, but otherwise OK, Webb said. The area where searchers found the women was several kilometres southwest of the hikers' starting point at the Interlakes day use area on the Alberta side.
The women told rescuers they became lost while descending from the North Kananaskis Pass on Saturday and weren't able to retrace their steps, despite having a map and compass. They spent the night in the Beatty Tarns area near the Palliser River and set out the next day following the waterway. The women thought they were hiking back toward Upper Kananaskis Lake - but they had become turned around and were headed in the opposite direction, into B.C.
Webb said the search was complicated by the fact the women kept moving. It's easier for searchers to find people if they stay in one place and light a fire to attract attention from the air, Webb said.
"It's important to get out in the open, where you can be seen," he said.
Webb also recommended that all parties carry emergency beacons, which send a satellite signal that can alert authorities if people get lost or encounter an emergency.
"It's like bear spray: you hope you don't need it," Webb said.
Even day hikers should prepare for mishaps, Webb added, and bring warmer clothes and gear in case they have to spend the night in the elements.
Authorities in Kananaskis have used helicopters in 32 aerial searches this year. As well, there has been a large number of missing persons reports where people have turned up safe before rescuers launch a search, Webb said.