Humbel lucky and wiser 

Whistler emergency response teams pull off tricky Green Lake rescue

A life and death rescue in the frigid waters of Green Lake last weekend has highlighted how well local emergency response units work together, a top official says.

"It is really a tribute to everybody working together and a measure of the training that we have here in the valley," said Whistler Search and Rescue search manager Brad Sills this week.

"It is a good illustration of how much variable training is going on in the valley for these kinds of incidents and how the response was on a number of different levels.

"That guy was going to get out of there one way or the other."

It all began Saturday morning when a bystander saw Jurg Humbel sink into Green Lake after he lost the wind while kite skiing on thin ice about 200 metres offshore from the Highway 99 view point.

Humbel and his kite skiing are a familiar site on the lake in the winter but unseasonably warm weather made Green Lake a treacherous place to be Saturday.

"I made a few mistakes and judgement errors," he said humbly, adding that he had not checked the ice conditions on the highway side of the lake for about two days before heading out from the golf-course side.

"Then I ran out of wind in a really bad spot, and then I started sinking and the ice was basically rotten, like a carpet caving in on me, and from then on it was survival."

He remembers being coached from the shoreline by a woman he thinks called 911 for him.

"I would really like to meet her," said Humbel.

And he recalls beginning to lose his vision and getting very disoriented.

As Humbel struggled to survive in the water emergency professionals went into high gear. It was quickly determined that the fire department needed to be called to see if their ice-sled could reach him. But the ice was too thin. The inflatable Zodiac boat was called out but it was too slow breaking through the ice, and Humbel was getting dangerously close to letting go of his sail and sinking into the dark waters of the lake.

Coincidentally Blackcomb Helicopters owner Steve Flynn, a highly trained rescue pilot, was driving home for lunch when he saw the rescue underway.

"I got out of my truck and someone hollered at me, ‘hey, Steve I think we need the heli,’" he said.

"At that point I looked out and saw the guy in the lake and thought we better do something pretty quick. It was probably maybe five or six minutes from the time I realized something was going on until we were hovering over the guy’s head. It was fast, really fast."

But Humbel was incapacitated by cold so Flynn had to dip the skid of the helicopter into the water and scoop Humbel’s arm so that long time professional mountain rescuer Paul Skelton and Whistler SAR member Binty Massey could grab him and pull him into the helicopter.

Flynn admits the water surface rescue was a first for him and he believes it all came together because the team has trained together for years.

"It was just a real team effort from my guys here getting the helicopter ready so quickly, to (Skelton) and (Massey) pulling him into the helicopter," said Flynn.

"All three of us are good friends and have worked together and done lots of training and it really showed.

"(Humbel) was on the verge of slipping under so it gives you a good sense of satisfaction to actually do something that saved someone’s life."

RCMP estimate that Humbel was in the water for about half an hour before being rescued.

Today Humbel is resting at home and taking the time to thank everyone who saved his life.

Kite skiing is over for the season, he said, but he plans to be out there again in the future.

"Next year I will do some more checking before I go out," he said. "I can sail on thin ice but it has to be there."


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