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Flight over Garibaldi for missing mountaineers planned

The group has been missing for four days as search and rescue members are grounded due to poor weather and avalanche risk.

UPDATE: 3:30 p.m.

Search and rescue members are hopeful to fly over the search area where three mountaineers went missing from.

Squamish SAR manager B.J. Chute tells Glacier Media members are "hopeful to go in" on Wednesday afternoon pending weather and an avalanche assessment.

An avalanche assessment would be needed before people can search on the ground.

"We have our highly specialized team members on standby ready to respond. We are working with avalanche technicians who will be assessing the risks as we are facing winter conditions in the area," says Chute.

Squamish RCMP, the Integrated Police Dog Services and RCMP Air Service will also be involved.

Cpl. Ashley MacKay says weather models are showing a clearing trend tomorrow afternoon.

"It is anticipated this window will permit an aerial scene assessment which is necessary prior to placing search and rescue personnel into this complex terrain,” says MacKay.

People are being asked to stay out of Garibaldi Mountain and Atwell Peak so that the search and rescue operations are not hindered. 

ORIGINAL: 11:30 a.m.

Three people who went mountaineering in Garibaldi Provincial Park have been missing for four days. 

Squamish Search and Rescue made significant attempts to gain access to Atwell Peak by air, foot and drone but were unsuccessful due to dangerous avalanche conditions and wintry weather. 

A family member reported the trio missing after they were due to return from summiting Atwell Peak on May 31. There has been "no word" from the three people since.

Squamish SAR manager B.J. Chute believes the missing group is experienced and took all the right gear to complete the climb. 

"This is not a simple day hike by any stretch,” says Chute. 

A low ceiling cloud cover continues and risky avalanche conditions are halting the search on Tuesday.

"We need a long weather window to get the machines and some personnel into the air and get eyes on to the scene,” he says. “Then we need to figure out what or even how we can stabilize the scene to put our crews into there should they need to go in."

SAR intends to head up to Atwell Peak as soon as the weather clears. He adds there needs to be long weather window, not just 20 minutes.

At this point, he does not know when that opportunity could come.

“We have no way of predicting [when] right now, we are working with a local meteorologist and avalanche forecast,” he says. “We are trying our best.”

Less than five people each year are believed to climb 2,655 metres to Atwell Peak. It's known as one of the steeper and more inaccessible peaks in Garibaldi Provincial Park. 

A local Squamish ski guide who summited Atwell Peak in February explains how it is a "relatively uncommonly" climbed summit and people tend to attempt it during winter months when there is snow on the ground. 

RCMP is not releasing the names of the three individuals.

Self-rescue plan a necessity 

A heavy rainfall warning had been in place for the region since Sunday and ended Tuesday morning. Environment Canada had called for 40 to 50 millimetres of heavy rain. At higher elevations, heavy snow continues to fall during the morning on Tuesday. 

The freezing level in Garibaldi Provincial Park is at 1,600 metres elevation on Tuesday. 

SAR members are on standby for a break in the weather to get a visual of the area. 

“We won’t send out rescue teams into areas of avalanche activity,” says Chute. "If we cannot see what's referred to as overhead hazard, if there's no way for us to see up to the areas in which we're crossing and the areas in which we're climbing, then we simply cannot send our rescue teams into that area.”

"It's just too reckless and too unsafe,” he says. 

Local mountain guides were hired but called back after the area was deemed unsafe. 

Chute is reminding people that it is still winter in the mountains and weather can slow down search efforts. People willing to go on these adventures need to have self-rescue plans. During this time of year and with foul weather, people are expected to be self-sufficient.

"911 cannot be your rescue plan," says Chute. "A ground-based search, particularly over a long period or a long distance, can be quite a timely event."