Sparwood community memorial

Sparwood community memorial

Eight died doing what they loved – Here’s to the boys- The Free Press Turns 115 Years Old

Here’s to the boys - Eight died doing what they loved - The Free Press Turns 115 Years Old

January 8 2009                 Free Press Files

Eight Sparwood snowmobilers died doing the sport they loved as they tried to save each other.

The fatal trip began early on Sunday Dec. 28  when Warren Rothel, James Drake, Leonard Stier and his son Micheal, Jeff Adams, Danny Bjarnason and Kane Rusnak set off for a  snowmobile trip in Golden.

Soon realizing road conditions were bad, they decided instead to ride the backcountry south-east of Fernie.

As survivor Jeff Adams would later relay to the world’s media, they were near 29 Mile Creek just before 2 p.m. when Micheal Stier got stuck in a snow bank. He was trying to pull his sled free when the first avalanche thundered down, burying him and several other members of the group.

The other men immediately abandoned their machines to try to dig them out, and were joined by group of four Kurt Kabel, Thomas Talarico, Jeremy Rusnak and Blayne Wilson, who had been sledding in the area and heard their yells.

Kurt Kabel pressed the 911 button on his new spot transmitter and set off a chain of emergency calls that would lead search and rescuers to their location.

However minutes later a second avalanche tumbled onto the whole group. Only three men – Jeff Adams, Jeremy Rusnak and James Drake – were able to dig themselves out.

After making the “gut-wrenching” decision to walk away from the unstable snow field in the hope of returning with help, the three men walked 5km before the Fernie and District Search and Rescue helicopter found them.

A search operation involving 130 volunteer rescuers led to the discovery of seven of the men on Monday.

On Monday night a candlelit vigil in Sparwood saw hundreds of residents gather to mourn the dead and promise support for their families.

Danny Bjarnason’s body was found the next day, after survivor Jeff Adams showed search and rescuers where he had last seen his friend.

With the men’s bodies finally back home, a long chain of individual funeral services followed, with a mass community memorial held last Sunday.

For more great stories that ran in The Free Press in the past 115 years