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'Hazardous' conditions pause search for missing B.C. mountaineers

Three mountaineers have been missing for six days after climbing a remote peak in Garibaldi Provincial Park.

UPDATE: 3:30 p.m.

The search for three missing mountaineers has been called off for the day after hazardous conditions.

An aerial search over Garibaldi Park was conducted on Thursday and video footage was obtained by a drone.  Only a ‘partial’ ground search was completed.

ӣƵRCMP Cpl. Ashley MacKay says the decision to pause the search is for the safety of search and rescue crews.

“Significant challenges due to current unstable conditions have resulted in the decision to suspend the search to ensure the safety of search and rescue teams,” says MacKay.

An analysis of the drone footage is underway. Conditions will be reassessed for Friday and the search is ‘anticipated’ to resume.

“An exact timeline is uncertain and will be dependent on the conditions as well as a continuous risk assessment,” says MacKay.

RCMP is urging people to avoid entering the area as the terrain is ‘hazardous’ and poses a significant risk.

UPDATE: 12:30 p.m.

Nearly a dozen search and rescue members were flown to Atwell Peak and searched by foot for three missing mountaineers on Thursday.

For the first time since the group went missing on May 31, search and rescue had a clear visual of the peak.

Cloudy conditions and a high avalanche risk grounded the search for days.

ӣƵSearch and Rescue manager B.J. Chute says at first light an air team and ground team were able to get into the search area in Garibaldi Provincial Park. He said rescuers were deployed on foot with avalanche dogs.

"So far, we haven't turned up any clues of these three missing people,” says Chute. 

The weather conditions turned dangerous in the afternoon with warming snow resulting in a high avalanche risk.

“Right now it’s deemed too unsafe for us to continue to be in there on foot,” says Chute.

The Thursday morning search allowed SAR to follow the route they believed the mountaineers took.

“We think we've crossed off the route that we believe that they took. We can't say anything with 100 per cent certainty, given the conditions that are up there, but at this point, we are still considering this an active search,” he says.

Since the group went missing, nearly 100 centimetres of snow has fallen.

“We also saw wind upwards of 100 km per hour,” he says.

A RECCO helicopter detector, used to as a tool to helps locate people, passed over Atwell Peak on Thursday morning during the clear conditions

“We were able to get into the smaller gullies with a handheld RECCO,” he says. “Those efforts are still coming up negative.”

SAR is sticking to the trio’s detailed route they planned at this time.

“The area is massive. There’s only a couple of ways in and a couple of ways that they should have come out,” he says. “We're trying our best to cross off all of the areas, possibilities or even variations of those routes.”

The aerial search will continue throughout the day, as the weather allows.

ORIGINAL: 6 a.m.

An aerial search for three missing climbers continues early Thursday morning in Squamish. 

ӣƵSearch and Rescue members took off in a helicopter at 6:11 a.m. on Thursday to continue the search over Garibaldi Provincial Park. 

A search and rescue crew equipped with skis and one dog took off in the aircraft. 

ӣƵSAR says drones and avalanche dogs are on the search today. The local team is being being assisted by members from Whistler Search and Rescue and North Shore Rescue.

Members have not been able to get on the ground and close to Atwell Peak due to weather and avalanche risk.

The trio of experienced mountaineers vanished on May 31 after summitting Atwell Peak in Garibaldi Provincial Park. The group did not return back down on Friday and were reported missing by a family member to RCMP.

ӣƵSearch and Rescue was able to conduct a search over the lower elevations of the mountain on Wednesday, but cloudy weather stopped them from being able to search higher up. 

SAR manager B.J. Chute expects aircraft to fly over Garibaldi Park all day.  

Temperatures in ӣƵare set to reach highs of 23 degrees on Thursday, which has the potential to create volatile avalanche conditions at higher elevations making ground searches not safe. 

Chute is hopeful though that there will be clear skies and the aircraft will be able to reach higher elevations of Atwell Peak. 

Atwell Peak is 2,655 metres in elevation and is considered one of the steeper and more inaccessible peaks in Garibaldi Provincial Park. 

On Thursday morning, only a few clouds covered Atwell Peak.  

A Weatherhood station at the ӣƵ newsroom states it is 10 C downtown as of 7 a.m.

Less than a handful of people reach the peak every year and mountaineers often climb when there is snow for better grip and footing. 

Family members and many friends gathered at the search and rescue command centre on Wednesday waiting for news of their loved ones. Family members were flown over the search area by crews in a helicopter. 

Glacier Media is respecting the families’ wishes for privacy and will not release the identity of the individuals. 

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