Four days after a deadly helicopter crash in northern British Columbia, the bodies of the three victims have yet to be recovered from the mountainside, according to the uncle of two men who were aboard the aircraft.
Heiner ‘Junior’ Oberrauch, 32, and Andreas Widmann, 35, died when the helicopter carrying a group of skiers into the remote backcountry north of Terrace went down around 4:15 p.m. Monday.
The two men were part of a larger group of 15 skiers from the city of Bolzano, Italy, who were aboard three helicopters chartered by ski-tour operator Northern Escape Heli-Skiing.
Oberrauch’s brother, Jakob Oberrauch, was injured but survived the crash, as did friends Emilio Zierock and Johannes Peer, according to the Oberrauch family.
One other person, who has not been identified, died in the crash.
An uncle of the two Oberrauch men says the unnamed victim was the pilot and that the fourth injured person was a ski guide on the trip. Northern Escape Heli-Skiing did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his statement.
“It was the people seated in the back (of the helicopter) who are alive,” the uncle, Heiner Oberrauch, told CTV News in a telephone interview Thursday. “They are all in hospital in Vancouver and are fine.”
The B.C. Coroners Service declined to provide any information on the body recovery efforts Friday.
‘They are still up in the mountains’
The remote location where the helicopter crashed, approximately 30 kilometres north of Terrace, is only accessible by air, according to Mounties.
The Oberrauch uncle told CTV News that there was a one-hour window in which the authorities could have recovered the remains on Thursday, however the plan was called off due to weather.
“They still can’t go up to find the victims because it’s too much snow,” the uncle said from his home in Italy on Friday, adding the chances of a recovery mission in the days to come appear slim. “They are still up in the mountains.”
The Environment Canada weather forecast shows consistent rain or snow over the next seven days in Terrace, which is much closer to sea level than the high alpine region where the helicopter went down.
‘He was a great skier’
Zierock, the scion of a well-known winemaking family, was among the most seriously injured. He underwent back surgery Thursday, and all three injured Italians are expected to be able to fly home on Monday or Tuesday, the Oberrauch uncle said.
“The operation was good and they all spoke with their families,” he added.
The father of the Oberrauch brothers has been at the hospital in Vancouver since early this week, the uncle said.
Heiner ‘Junior’ was a member of a mountain rescue team back home in the province of South Tyrol. “He was a great skier,” his uncle told CTV News.
The mountain rescue team posted a short memorial to Heiner on social media, expressing “deep condolences” to his family.
Heiner ‘Junior’ Oberrauch was one of three people killed in a helicopter crash in northern British Columbia on Jan. 22, 2024. (Bergrettung Bozen/Facebook)
‘They waited over half an hour’
Mounties say the downed helicopter lost communication with the other two helicopters before it was found crashed into a snowfield.
It was an injured Jakob who called for help from the wreckage of the helicopter, according to his uncle.
“They waited over half an hour for the other helicopter to pick them up,” he said.
After receiving the emergency call, the two remaining helicopters landed and were able to rescue the four survivors from the wreckage and shuttle them to paramedics who transferred them to hospital.
“All the scheduled communications were happening according to our protocols” John Forrest, the president of Terrace-based heli-ski operator Northern Escape Heli-Skiing, said in a statement Tuesday.
“We received radio communications from a guest involved in the helicopter accident that the incident had occurred. We activated our rescue protocols, including immediately ceasing all skiing activities and activating search and rescue.”
CTV News spoke briefly with Thomas Widmann, the uncle of crash victim Andreas Widmann. However, the uncle, from his home in Italy, asked not to be formally interviewed Thursday, citing the English-Italian language barrier.
The helicopter that crashed belongs to Skyline Helicopters, based in Kelowna, B.C.
Police and the coroners service have not confirmed the identities of those killed or injured in the crash, nor have the companies involved in the incident.