Heliskiing company says its 'heartbroken' over avalanche that killed German tourists

'Heartbroken' by avalanche

UPDATE 1:25 P.M.

The heliskiing company involved in Wednesday’s deadly avalanche near Invermere has released a statement.

RK Heliski says it has served over 160,000 clients with over 800,000 guided runs since 1970 and its top priority has been the safety of guests and staff.

“The guests and the guides who ski with us each season are part of our family. We are heartbroken about the accident that happened yesterday near Invermere, B.C. It is impossible to put into words the sorrow that we feel and the sadness that is shared by our guests, their families and all of our staff. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved, their loved ones and the community,” said the company.

RK Heliski also expressed its gratitude to all the outside agencies and others who jumped into action to help after the avalanche, including ski patrollers from Panorama Mountain Resort, CMH Bugaboos Lodge, guides with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and aircraft from Coldstream Helicopters, Silver King Helicopters, Glacier Helicopters and CMH Helicopters.

HeliCat Canada, the industry association for heliskiing, has been asked to activate the Critical Incident Stress Management Team to support RK Heliski staff.

“We remain committed to best-in-class safety processes and protocols. During this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved and their loved ones,” concludes the statement from the company.

UPDATE 11:45 a.m.

Three men who died while heli-skiing outside Invermere have been identified by German media.

Passauer Neue Presse is reporting two men came from the small town of Eging am See (pop. 4,300) in the state of Bavaria. Another was from Munich.

The three dead are a 57-year-old clinic manager and his 34-year-old son-in-law in addition to a 57-year-old Eging am See council member. A fourth member of the group, 25 and also from Eging am See, escaped with minor injuries

The newspaper reported the group traveled to celebrate the achievement of the 25-year-old’s bachelor's degree.

“The crowning glory was this ski event in the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia,” the newspaper reported, translated by Google.

The deceased are described by the paper as “well-known.”

"All of us in our community are deeply dismayed by this tragedy and we feel deep sadness," Eging am See Mayor Walter Bauer told the newspaper. "I'm shocked, stunned and still can't believe how cruel life can be."

Police say a total of 10 people were caught in the slide Wednesday, in addition to the three fatalities, four people were hurt. RK Heliski, the company that was operating the tour, is holding a media availability later today.

The avalanche happened in the riding of Columbia River-Revelstoke, represented by member of the legislature Doug Clovechok.

He told the B.C. legislature on Thursday that one of those injured was a guide leading the group of visitors.

"Panorama ski patrol and local search and rescue crews carried out the effort to locate and free the victims and work with B.C. Emergency Services to get the injured to hospital."

Clovechok said the dozen avalanche deaths this winter make it one of the worst seasons in decades in the province.

"When these tragedies occur, it shakes the entire community," he said as his voice cracked with emotion. "And I know right now, there is deep sadness."

He said their hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones, and those who survived the frightening event.

Clovechok added that last month an experienced search and rescue volunteer died in a B.C. avalanche while off duty, and her teammates with Cariboo search and rescue had to carry her body out.

"Even the most experienced backcountry skier can encounter trouble. It's vital that people check the warnings, carry the right gear and be mindful of the dangers that come out there."

This is the sixth deadly avalanche in B.C. since the season started in November.

with files from Canadian Press

ORIGINAL 8:40 a.m.

Columbia Valley RCMP now confirm that three skiers were killed in an avalanche in southeastern British Columbia, near Invermere.

In total, there were 10 people caught up in the avalanche and three of the skiers lost their lives, four were injured. Some of the injured are listed in serious condition but are expected to survive.

All of the skiers, with the exception of the guide, are foreign nationals and all parties have now been accounted for.

Initial reports indicated that one person lost their life after an avalanche hit a group of heli-skiers.

The first emergency calls came in at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday and emergency crews responded to reports of an avalanche having occurred at noon. The first report was of an avalanche having been triggered in the area of Panorama, BC.

Rescue efforts were carried out by Search and Rescue, Panorama Ski-Patrol. The heli-skiing company that was directly involved, RK Heliski, was also providing assistance with the rescue effort, police said.

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