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3 Italians identified as victims of fatal northwest B.C. helicopter crash

7 people on board one of three ski adventure helicopters; 3 dead, 4 seriously injured
Four people were treated for serious injuries at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace following a helicopter crash Monday that killed three people. (Northern Health photo)

Three Italians have been identified as the victims in the fatal crash of a helicopter outside Terrace.

Italy’s news agency ANSA quotes sources as saying one of those killed is Heiner Junior Oberrauch, while his brother Jakob Oberrauch was among the four people injured in Monday’s crash during a heli-skiing trip.

Jakob Oberrauch is the CEO of Sportler Group, an outdoor sport clothing company.

ANSA reports that he is in hospital and conscious.

The agency doesn’t name the other two Italians who died Monday afternoon when the helicopter went down in the mountains with seven people aboard.

Northern Escape Heli-Skiing, based in Terrace, confirmed in a news release that one of its helicopters had crashed.

Police say three Northern Escape helicopters were running a backcountry ski adventure with numerous passengers on board each one approximately 50 kilometres north of the city when operators lost communications with one of the choppers.

The other two searched for and found the crash site in a snow field. Three of the seven people on that helicopter died. No details on who the deceased were are being released while authorities worked to notify next of kin, an RCMP press release said.

The other two helicopters ferried the remaining four seriously injured passengers from the site to a location on Hwy 113 where BC Ambulance and Terrace Fire Rescue were waiting to transport them to Mills Memorial Hospital.

The four injured parties were treated for what police described as “serious” injuries.

A media release from Kelowna-based Skyline Helicopters says it is the owner of the helicopter that was transporting staff and guests of Northern Escape Heli-Skiing when it went down at about 4 p.m.

“Our staff and clients are an integral part of our extended family,” says Teri Northcott, president of Skyline Helicopters.

“Words cannot convey the profound grief we feel. We ask for respect for the privacy of those impacted during this incredibly challenging time. With that in mind, we will await any updates from the RCMP on those involved. We appreciate the swift response from external agencies, first responders, Northern Escape Heli-Skiing and our team following the accident yesterday.”

The statement indicated the company will work closely with authorities and provide support in any way it can.

An investigation is ongoing involving the BC Coroners Service, Transport Safety Board (TSB) and Work Safe BC along with the Terrace RCMP.

“The crash is located in a very remote location which is only accessible by helicopter,” said RCMP spokesperson Madonna Saunderson in a press release. “Police and B.C. coroners will be flown to the scene today (Jan. 23) during daylight hours to continue the investigation.”

Two helicopter crews that were nearby when a heli-skiing chopper crashed on Monday in the B.C. backcountry located the wreckage and swiftly rescued the four survivors, a search manager said.

But the bodies of the three victims who died remain on the mountain and a search team is working with police and the Coroners Service to retrieve them, Terrace Search and Rescue manager Dave Jephson said Tuesday.

Jephson said that the crash had affected the tight-knit community of Terrace in “awful ways.”

He said crews were standing by Tuesday afternoon to return to the site of the crash but freezing rain was preventing flights from the local airport.

“Everybody in the community knows everybody. Everybody in the community supports everybody,” Jephson said.

“We were just on a search-rescue practice last night and three people in the truck that I was driving in either knew somebody from (Northern Escape), knew somebody from the hospital or knew somebody who was involved. You know, that just shows you the type of community that we are in Terrace.”

Jephson said Northern Escape was a “great company” and the crash and its aftermath had been “brutal.”

“We do a lot of stuff with Northern,” he said. “They’re going through a very difficult time at this point.”

An industry group for helicopter skiing operators says it’s an inherently risky activity but that doesn’t lessen the loss.

HeliCat Canada, an industry association of helicopter and snowcat skiing firms, says the risk in the activities doesn’t “decrease our sadness.”

It says in a statement that eliminating all risk is “impossible,” but the “industry does its best to mitigate” it with knowledge and expertise.

“Although these fatalities are rare, it breaks our heart to have them occur.

“An accident like this is a tragic loss that impacts everyone, including the operators, guests, communities and our entire industry,” HeliCat Canada’s statement said.

The trade group’s statement said the industry is governed by a “sophisticated and robust regulatory environment,” involving regular audits and safety standards.

The association said it activated a peer group known as the “mountain community critical incident stress management” to “support Northern Escape Heli-Skiing in their response to this traumatic event.”

Premier David Eby thanked first responders in a social media post, and said news of the crash is “heartbreaking” and British Columbians were thinking of victims’ families.

READ MORE: UPDATE: 3 dead after ski adventure helicopter crashes north of Terrace