VANCOUVER — Friends and family from the close-knit community of Haines, Alaska, are in mourning after two young men died in an avalanche in northwestern British Columbia’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Park.
Zane Durr and Matthew Green, both 21, were snowboarding with a 16-year-old friend when the avalanche hit Monday afternoon, said Haines Borough manager Debra Schnabel.
The teenager survived but the two men were killed, she said, adding that all three are from families with deep roots in Haines and are connected either by blood, marriage or other relationships.
“We have a heavy heart across the community,” she said. “It’s generational and very broad, the impact to the community.”
Durr and Green were roommates in Seattle, where one was attending a trade school and the other was also pursuing post-secondary education, she said. They had returned home to Haines for the holidays and were planning to return to Washington in the new year.
Schnabel said both families have been notified and the Durr family travelled to the accident site after learning the news while the Greens are in Haines. After the investigation wraps, the bodies will be returned to the Alaska town, she said.
A prayer vigil was held Tuesday at the Haines Presbyterian Church, which is staying open to allow mourners to visit and reflect, she added.
Durr’s girlfriend, Hannah Miller, thanked the young man for “blessing (her) life” in an emotional statement posted on Instagram.
“I will never be able to repay you for the joy you brought me, the laughs we shared, and the love you gave and gave and gave,” she wrote.
“I just wish I could tell you one more time how loved you are by me and every single one of your friends and family. So many people mourn the loss of you and Matthew. I love you both.”
A fundraiser to send Miller to Haines to be with Durr’s family had raised more than $2,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. The fundraiser says Miller stayed behind while the two friends travelled to Alaska for the holidays because she had to work.
A statement from the Haines Volunteer Fire Department says it was notified Monday that the RCMP had received a signal from an emergency locator west of the Three Guardsmen Mountain in the Haines Pass area.
It says Canadian authorities immediately co-ordinated a rescue operation, and emergency support and a helicopter were sent to the scene.
“The skiing party involved consisted of three individuals, all friends from Haines,” the statement says.
Shortly after arriving on the scene, the Canadian authorities reported they had one person alive and in their care and two others who were deceased, the statement says.
The B.C. coroner said it is investigating to determine how, where and by what means the men died.
James Minifie, lead avalanche technician for Avalanche Canada, said Christmas week saw storms, snow and strong winds that led to an increase in dangerous conditions for that corner of the province.
He said the area where the snowboarders were found is “fairly remote” mountainous terrain and is used for recreation by both Canadian and American citizens.
Minifie said high avalanche conditions persist in the area and people need to be aware of the dangers before going into the back country.
He said they need to have satellite-enabled communication and an emergency plan.
The fire department’s statement says the Canadian authorities are making arrangements to transport the deceased back to the United States.
“Our prayers are with all members of their families and our hearts are broken in their loss.”
The park is known for its river systems and has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2019.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press