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Chapter 7

Companion Rescue

If your group is involved in an avalanche, there is no time to call for help. Fatality statistics in Canada indicate you have just 10 minutes when the odds of recovering a buried victim alive is at 80%. After that 10-minute window, the chances of survival drop steeply.

With a critical response time of only 10 minutes, the best chance of survival comes from companion rescue—rescue performed by the victim's own group. In most cases, by the time outside help is on scene, it is too late. That is why all backcountry travellers need to be trained and practiced in companion rescue.

When an avalanche happens, a few key steps need to happen quickly, before the search starts. Someone should take charge to organize the rescue, a headcount needs to be taken to determine how many people are missing, and any hazard that may be affecting the site needs to identified.

The video and interactive image on this page provide a good outline of these crucial first steps in companion rescue.

Backcountry Learning

Tap or hover over the icons to find out more.

Diagram shows what to do when witnessing an avalanche Choose a leader. A rescue situation is highly stressful, and effectiveness will be increased is someone can organize the group’s efforts. A marker on the mapAssess the safety of the scene. It is important to start the rescue quickly but first ensure the rescuers’ safety. A marker on the mapTake a headcount so you know how many people are missing. A marker on the mapIf you have enough rescuers, the leader might be most effective acting as a coordinator and looking at the big picture. A marker on the mapAssess overhead hazard. If there are slopes above that haven't slid, you may consider minimizing the number of searchers on the slope. A marker on the mapIf you have the resources and overhead hazard is a concern, post a lookout who can alert the group if another slide occurs. A marker on the mapIf you need everyone on scene to help search, the leader might need to act as a searcher while coordinating the team. A marker on the mapIf you witnessed the avalanche, watch the victim closely as long as you can and make a mental note of their last seen point. This will significantly help rescue efforts. A marker on the mapQuestion witnesses. If you did not see the avalanche happen, did someone else? Witnesses might be able to tell you how many are missing and where they were last seen. A marker on the map
Backcountry Learning