2 dead in avalanche in Columbia Icefield at Jasper National Park
EDMONTON -- Two people have died in an avalanche on an Alberta mountain in the Columbia Icefield.
The mountain-side avalanche Sunday morning occurred at Mount Andromeda, Steve Young, communications officer for Parks Canada, told CTV News Edmonton.
“A significant amount of snow came down the mountain, it went from 3,000 metres up, right down the valley bottom,” said Young.
RCMP said they were informed of the avalanche by Parks Canada at 7:45 a.m.
Parks Canada and emergency crews started the rescue efforts and ultimately extracted the two victims.
Deborah Tetley, a communications officer with STARS, said a helicopter from Edmonton and two from Grande Prairie, Alta., were dispatched to the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Tetley told CTV News Edmonton the helicopters were “not medically necessary” once they arrived on scene. RCMP confirmed the pair died on scene.
Mounties said it appeared they were involved in recreational activities on the mountain before the avalanche occurred.
The victims were Andrew Abel, a mountain guide, and his best friend Nathaniel Johnson. The pair were experienced mountaineers.
RCMP said on Thursday the victims were 28 and 30 years old and from Innisfail and Cochrane, but did not name them.
An Avalanche Canada report reads, in part: "Initial speculation is that the pair triggered the slide and were climbing, short roped together. Ski tracks unrelated."
'OUT DOING THE THINGS THAT THEY LOVED'
Jasper RCMP Sgt. Rick Bidaisee told CTV News Mounties immediately asked for multiple ground ambulances from nearby communities, Parks Canada visitor safety personnel, fixed-wing medical aircraft from across the province, and STARS air ambulance.
“Initially, the thought process was that (there were) multiple patients and casualties,” Bidaisee said.
“We attended the location and determined that two persons using the area for recreational activities got caught up in an avalanche."
According to Bidaisee, Mount Andromeda – located alongside Highway 93 near the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, on the boundary of Jasper and Banff National Parks – is a "very popular" destination for several recreation activities including skiing, climbing, and sightseeing.
“Our hearts go out to the families,” Bidaisee added. “The people were out doing things that they loved and enjoyed. Unfortunately, tragic circumstances led to this end result.”
Abel’s wife posted on social media in part that “while my heart is broken at the loss of my best friend, partner, and husband, I am taking solace in the knowledge that Andrew was pursuing what he loved.”
It is unknown what triggered the avalanche.
Young said while there is no indication of further avalanches, spring melting can rapidly change conditions.
Highway 93 was not affected by the avalanche and no buildings were damaged, Young said.
The Columbia Icefield was the site of a tour bus rollover that killed three people and injured two dozen more in 2020. Tours of the icefield restarted earlier in the week.
With files from CTV News Calgary's Teri Fikowski