Body found in search for missing snowboarders
Police find a body believed to be one of the missing snowboarders in Victoria's Alpine National Park. Rescuers believe the two men may have been trapped in an avalanche.PT2M41S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3bwtd 620 349 July 14, 2014
The search for missing snowboarder Martie Buckland, who disappeared in Victoria's Alpine National Park, has resumed in poor weather conditions.
A beacon led to the discovery of Mr Buckland's friend Daniel Kerr, whose body was found on Monday beneath more than four metres of snow.
Mr Kerr, 32, of Hawthorn, and Mr Buckland, 33, from Yarra Junction, disappeared late last week while snowboarding in challenging terrain on Mount Bogong, the state’s tallest mountain.
Map: Jamie Brown
Search and rescue teams started heading up to the search zone in 4WDs shortly before 8am on Tuesday.
Strapped to their roof racks were long plastic sticks that will be used for deep snow probing around the area where Mr Kerr was discovered.
"They're going to try to relocate the beacon and do some deep snow probes," a police spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
Daniel Kerr and Martie Buckland
Conditions have deteriorated overnight with rain falling most of Tuesday morning.
Mr Buckland's visibly distressed wife Sally spent about half an hour inside the Mount Beauty Police Station on Tuesday morning.
She emerged from the station in tears at about 10.45am and was escorted to her car by a friend.
Authorities believe the pair was well prepared for the difficult conditions they would have faced on the mountain, but had likely been caught by an avalanche.
Wangarratta police area commander David Ryan said police believed Mr Buckland was not far from where his friend was found.
‘‘However, the snow depth at the moment is over four metres, which is making it a bit challenging to probe and discover where he is,” he said.
The search was called off for the day shortly after 4pm on Monday, with crews returning by helicopter to Mount Beauty, the operational base.
The pair had been exploring a remote region of the mountain when they last communicated with their families more than four days ago.
They had sent a photograph from the Michell hut and had penned plans at an earlier stopover point, saying they were heading to Eskdale Spur, returning Saturday.
But they failed to return from the trip and their empty tent, sleeping bags and other equipment were discovered by a group of walkers the following morning.
Mr Kerr’s body was found buried under snow on a slope off Eskdale Spur, about half a kilometre from their campsite, at 10.30am on Monday.
Police had tracked an unidentified electronic beacon to the area and then used long sticks to locate the body.
Inspector Ryan said the men were believed to have been snowboarding on virgin snow in an area known among fans of the extreme sport.
‘‘Our understanding is that these guys have been here before, they’ve engaged in this sort of activity before and are highly experienced in terms of operating in this sort of terrain,’’ he said.
A snowboarder who has worked five winters in the region, but wished only to be referred to as Tom, said snowboarding, particularly in back country, was “an inherently dangerous sport”.
“Bogong is notorious for changing conditions and it changes very quickly,” he said.
“A lot of cross country skiers do the same thing, this is just the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Liz Paton, who owns the Bogong Ski Centre with her husband, said “back trekking in the high grounds” was not something the majority of visitors to the region would do.
“They’re doing things that the average snowboarder wouldn’t,” she said.
Ms Paton then broke into tears as she told of how news of a snowboarding death had affected the community.
“It doesn’t matter whether you know them or not, a lot of people around the village are going to be affected by this,” she said. “No one wants to hear about somebody getting hurt in their backyard.”
Inspector Ryan said the families were ‘‘obviously very distressed”. ‘‘It’s a really tragic time for them,’’ he said.
Temperatures on the mountain plummeted below zero over the weekend and southerly winds produced apparent temperatures up to -10 degrees at nearby Falls Creek.
The men’s families released a statement on Sunday night, before authorities had discovered Mr Kerr’s body.
Mr Buckland’s wife, Sally, said Mount Bogong was her husband’s favourite spot and he knew the area ‘‘like the back of his hand’’.
She said her husband had been friends with Mr Kerr since Year 7. Both were experienced outdoorsmen, which only added to the mystery of what could have happened.
‘‘We are absolutely devastated by the news of Martie and Daniel’s disappearance and hope with every passing minute that we are told they have been found safe,’’ she said in a joint statement with Mr Kerr’s parents, Marg and Phil Kerr.
Mr Kerr has worked with the YMCA for a number of years and was the manager of Hawthorn Aquatic and Leisure Centre.
The men had also been partners in various challenging outdoors activities for years. In May, both men, along with two other women, participated in the OXFAM 100 kilometre trailwalker, raising $2,671 for the charity.
Police believe the duo had an emergency position indicating radio beacon alarm, but it was not activated.
Ty Caling, Parks Victoria’s district manager for the state’s north east, said there had been ‘‘a lot of snow early in the season in a short amount of time’’ in the Mount Bogong area.
‘‘The snow depth and condition is quite variable. At any time of the year, conditions in this area can change very quickly,’’ he said.
The death is not the first tragedy in the snow this winter. In late June, a seven-year-old Roxburgh Park boy was killed when heavy snow buried him on Mount Buller while he playing with his siblings.
Resort chief executive John Huber described the boy’s death as a ‘‘tragic and devastating’’ incident.
At the time, police said they believed that snow had slid off a roof and engulfed the boy.
And, early this month, at Perisher in NSW, a 25-year-old man was found dead in a creek after what police described as an accident while snowboarding.
The man, a staff member at the resort, had been snowboarding with friends in the middle of the day when he became separated from the group. His body was found late that night.
Just a few hours later, at 2.30am, rescuers found a missing man near Mount Anton.
The man, from Sydney, had become lost while skiing with friends. Police said the man, who had been lost in the snow for eight hours, was ‘‘very lucky’’ to be found alive.
The deaths this winter are a reminder of the dangers that exist in the freezing high country, and the threat to life from accidents in the snow.
In 2005, two people died within 10 days in accidents on the Victorian ski slopes.
In 2008, in a day of tragedy on the NSW snowfields, three people died in a single day.
Two men suffered fatal injuries in separate skiing accidents at the Perisher Blue resort, while an ice climber was killed in an avalanche about three kilometres from the village of Charlotte Pass.
Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Terry Ryan said conditions for searchers were expected to deteriorate on Tuesday and worsen as the week went on.
With Robyn Grace and Caroline Zielinski