'This rescue was gonna be an honour to Dave'
North Shore Rescuers were mourning one of their own Thursday when the call came in: A 24-year-old snowboarder stranded on Suicide Gully.
The team members were among the hundreds at Surrey's Peace Portal Alliance Church on Jan. 26, paying their respects at the funeral of RCMP helicopter pilot and long-time North Shore Rescue flyer Dave Brolin.
Brolin, a 46-year-old father of two, died when he crashed his RCMP helicopter during training near Chilliwack on Jan. 17.
North Shore Rescue leader Tim Jones was one of the rescuers remembering their fallen friend when their pagers lit up with the message that an inbound helicopter would pick up the team near the church and whisk them to the Mount Seymour backcountry to find the stranded man.
"This rescue was gonna be an honour to Dave," Jones told The Outlook Friday.
Because of the uncharacteristically warm and sunny weather Thursday, Jones and his team brought a full complement of rescue gear to Brolin's memorial, ready to grab and go if one of the many wilderness explorers expected out that day needed help.
"We had a rescue vehicle at the memorial. We expected it and it happened," Jones said.
But the rescue truck would only take them five kilometres down the road to King George Air Park to board the Talon rescue helicopter. It was already nearing 4 o'clock and the daylight that makes a mountain rescue by air possible was dwindling fast.
On the flight over the Fraser Valley to the slopes of Seymour, Jones and his team were briefed on the call: A 24-year-old snowboarder from Sooke was riding Seymour with a friend when the two ducked out of bounds to pee.
Where they ducked the rope, however, happened to be the edge of Suicide Gully — a steep and remote mountain drop.
"The one friend was able to get out while the subject zoomed right down into the big bowl of Suicide Gully," Jones said.
His friend contacted Seymour mountain staff, who then contacted the RCMP. And when the RCMP need help finding someone, they call North Shore Rescue.
Within minutes Jones and his team were hovering over where the snowboarder was last seen, sending text messages down to him on their cellphones.
"As he began to hike up he was able to get reception," Jones said. "The texts have a delayed timeframe on them so if we pass directly overhead in a helicopter, it's usually three minutes after we get the text back. So we time stamp everything and it works."
Telling the stranded snowboarder to text them when the helicopter was directly overhead, the rescuers retraced their flight path and finally found him.
"It took quite a while to pinpoint him," Jones said, and it wasn't over once they did.
Because of the snowboarder's precarious perch on the wall of the gully, the team decided they'd have to try a long-line rescue — a technique NSR pioneered — and suspend a rescuer 200-feet below the helicopter through the tree canopy and haul the victim up.
"Normally the rescuers get off the line when they get on the ground but in this case he didn't. He stayed on the line for his own safety and we literally had two minutes left of flying time when he reached him."
The snowboarder was unhurt but mildly hypothermic, Jones said. "That's when you're most vulnerable because you're hypothermic, you're not making good choices. You're staggering and you fall and die."
This latest rescue came one week to the day after North Shore Rescuers pulled four stranded snowboarders, also in their 20s, from an out-of-bounds gully on Cypress Mountain.