Polish climbers trigger rescue effort

The Canadian Press

McBRIDE, B.C.–Two mountaineers from Poland unintentionally sparked an international rescue effort after being caught in an avalanche in eastern British Columbia.
The men were climbing Whitehorn Mountain in the Canadian Rockies on Monday when they were hit by a major avalanche that tumbled them “quite a distance,” said Dale Mason, manager of Robson Valley Search and Rescue.
“I’m amazed that they were even able to retrieve the satellite phone out of their pack,” Mason said from his home in the Robson Valley community of McBride.
“I’m surprised they still had their packs on,” he added. “I fully expected them to be ripped right off them.”
But the only call the men were able to make was to a colleague in Poland, said Lukasz Weremiuk, first counsellor at the Polish Embassy in Ottawa.
The colleague in Poland immediately dialled the embassy and Weremiuk picked up.
He said the Polish contact reported that his friends, professional mountaineers and members of the Polish Mountaineering Association, were badly injured with multiple fractures.
“They were in need of assistance, they couldn’t move, they couldn’t descend,” Weremiuk noted.
The caller was able to supply vital information that helped launch the rescue.
“We had some kind of approximate location, altitude, side of the mountain,” Weremiuk said. “But at some point, we were also able to get the GPS co-ordinates from Poland.”
That clarified which Whitehorn Mountain was involved because Weremiuk said maps showed two–one in B.C., the other in Alberta.
He called 9-1-1 and the embassy was put through to B.C. Emergency Health Services.
“It was a very unusual routing of the call,” said emergency health services spokeswoman Shannon Miller.
“When I talked to the dispatchers, they were like, ‘You know, I’ve worked here a lot of years and I have never had a dispatch call quite like this.'”
The first call from the embassy reached B.C. around 11 a.m., and the men were rescued and receiving treatment in a Kamloops hospital in just over seven hours–a credit, Miller said, to the well co-ordinated emergency services available in B.C.