Heliskiing CEO questions recovery efforts for Terrace crash victims

Poor weather conditions have made recovery difficult for three people who died in Monday’s helicopter crash on a mountainside 30 kilometers north of Terrace.

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The CEO of the heli-skiing company linked to the helicopter crash that killed three people on Jan. 22 is calling for the Canadian Air Force to be hired to help with the recovery of bodies from a northern British Columbia mountain .

However, the RCMP said recovery of the body is outside military jurisdiction and the search and rescue team leading the efforts said poor weather conditions have made a safe recovery impossible.

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John Forrest, president of Northern Escape, the company that ran the fatal heli-skiing excursion, asked why the Canadian Air Force has not been called in to help with the recovery of the three victims killed in the mountains north of Terrace, which has so far it has been hampered by low clouds and reduced visibility.

The accident, which involved a Skyline Helicopters Koala Augusta Westland A119, claimed the lives of Italian tourists Heiner Junior (Heinzl) Oberrauch, 29, and Andreas Widman, 35, and the helicopter’s pilot, who was still has not been identified.

Four other people were injured, including Oberrauch’s older brother, Jakob Oberrauch, 34, CEO of the family sporting goods company Sportler; Johannes Peer, 34, also a director of Sportler, and Emilio Zierock, 35.

“If you can put yourself in the position of a mother or a father or a child and imagine that your loved ones are still stuck on the mountain up there,” Forrest said. “And it seems like nothing is being done to bring them down.”

Forrest said that even with the poor weather conditions, he believes the pilots at Canadian Forces Base Comox, equipped with a Cormorant helicopter, have the experience to carry out the difficult rescue.

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“The local search and rescue team, bless them, are wonderful people, but they are volunteers. And we are facing a very, very difficult, very dangerous liberation. “It is a very difficult place to get to,” he stated.

“And I have been trying to implore the RCMP to use the professional rescue team that comes out of CFB Comox. “They appear in a Cormorant that has a winch and two pilots fly it with about 5,000 kilograms of lift.”

Forrest said Northern Escape “did our part to rescue” the four people injured in the crash.

“But the RCMP has closed the area. “Now it is up to them to take down (the deceased victims) and we are simply asking the RCMP to do their part and make sure they take these people down in a timely manner,” he said.

RCMP Sgt. Kris Clark told Postmedia that Terrace RCMP contacted the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, the Victoria-based team that dispatches resources for search and rescue operations.

“Cloud cover and continued weather patterns have prevented anyone from completing the recovery operation,” Clark said. “No helicopter can fly safely under the current conditions and therefore recovery efforts will continue as before.”

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He also added that recovery of the body falls outside the JRCC’s search and rescue mandate.

Terrace Search and Rescue Manager David Jephson said his team is doing everything they can to return the three deceased to their loved ones and said it’s “frustrating” that Forrest is questioning that.

“There’s no helicopter pilot flying into the clouds, into a white mountain to try to recover the deceased,” said Jephson, a retired deputy fire chief who has been with the search and rescue team for 32 years. “I want this to end more than anyone. It is the weather that stops us.”

Jephson said that given the high-profile nature of the accident (involving Canada’s Office of the Prime Minister and Global Affairs, which is coordinating with families in Italy), he has been “expecting pressure” on the timing of the rescue.

“It all comes down to what is the benefit compared to the risk? In this case yes, we have three loved ones in the mountains. But are we supposed to risk more lives and another helicopter to recover people who are no longer with us?

“We’re at the mercy of that high pressure (system) that’s bringing everything down,” Jephson said, referring to the fog surrounding the crash site, 1,525 meters up the mountainside.

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“We tried to fly through the clouds on Thursday and couldn’t even get out of Terrace Valley.”

The weather forecast for Terrace calls for continued rain with temperatures above freezing through the weekend.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada sent a team to the scene to investigate the accident.

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