COURTENAY, B.C. -- A woman is in hospital in Vancouver after she was buried alive in an avalanche Sunday in the Mount Apps area of central Vancouver Island.

According to Comox Valley Search and Rescue leader Paul Berry, his team members were contacted for a request for assistance from BC Ambulance to evacuate a woman who had been trapped in a size-two avalanche while touring the Brooks Range, north of Mount Apps.

“'Size two' is a descriptor used in the avalanche community – it’s large enough to fully bury an individual and in this case that is exactly what happened,” Berry says.

The woman was apparently in a group of four and was one of two who were swept away when the snow let loose. Only the woman was buried.

“The good thing is they were conscious of the terrain, they knew what they were doing, had all the equipment that they needed to have: beacons, probes and shovels and they had clearly practised using it,” Berry says. “The burial was, in my understanding, quite significant – a good metre and a half down.”

Jan Neuspiel is the owner of Island Alpine Guides, which was not involved in Sunday’s incident but spoke with one of the four people involved. He says they were not part of any guided tour but described them as very experienced. 

“They effected a rescue incredibly quickly,” Neuspiel says. “From the time of the occurrence of the avalanche to getting the person that was buried in the snow out was about five minutes. So a really crack response.” 

“That’s a lot of snow to move to get someone,” Berry says. “They were able to do that and free her face so that she was able to breathe and then slowly assessed her and looked after her and stabilized her until our team was able to access her.”

Berry says it was fortunate that the weather was co-operative on Sunday and provided some openings while RCMP Air Services got search teams to within 200 metres of the avalanche scene. 

He says team members were able to quickly do an avalanche assessment and then cautiously made their way to the subjects and removed the victim.

“They packaged her into a full-body vacuum splint and then she was transported from there to the airpark in Courtenay and transferred to a waiting air ambulance.”

The woman is believed to be from the west coast of the island, possibly from the Tofino-Ucluelet area. 

Neuspiel says this is not a good time for anyone to be anywhere near avalanche terrain right now. 

“It was clearly avalanche terrain because an avalanche happened,” he says. “Whether it’s known for avalanches or not, anywhere that it’s steep enough and the right shape slope that has snow on it can produce avalanches.”