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Aussies die in mountain sledding accident

Investigation includes sled mechanics, autopsy and toxicology reports
Two Whistler Blackcomb staff died near here when they were thrown from their snowmobile Monday.

Police are awaiting the results of a mechanical investigation on a snowmobile that was involved in a fatal accident involving two Australian lifties on Whistler Mountain.

Twenty-three-year-old Benjamin Kontor and Joshua Bradford, 24, who had been working on the mountain Monday, were thrown from their snowmobile and killed after it left a ski run mid-mountain.

The results of the mechanical investigation could shed some light into what went wrong on Lower Whiskey Jack, a green run in the Emerald zone, in the late afternoon on Monday, June 5.

Four separate investigations were launched following the accident. The police, the coroner, Whistler-Blackcomb and WorkSafe B.C. are all trying to piece together the sequence of events leading up to the fatal accident.

Corporal Brent Keibal of the Whistler RCMP said they believe the snowmobile came off the run over a five-foot embankment where it struck a rock and then a tree.

Both men were pronounced dead at the scene.

According to investigators the men were wearing helmets at the time of the accident.

News of the accident spread like wildfire both in the resort and thousands of miles away in Australia when devastated family members learned what happened. Grief counsellors are on hand at Whistler-Blackcomb to help co-workers and friends deal with the tragedy.

"As (with) all our Australian employees, they were great employees, hard workers who really enjoyed being on the mountain," said Whistler-Blackcomb’s Dave Brownlie.

"As Whistler was winding down we obviously had kept them on because they were good workers, to help us out through the shutdown period."

Kontor and Bradford were last seen at the Emerald Chair at roughly 4:20 p.m. They had been working in that area with operations and maintenance crews shutting down and cleaning up the mountain the day after it officially closed for the season on Sunday.

The men were to have met up with a truck at the bottom of the Emerald Chair, within site of the accident scene. The truck was to take them to the top of the Creekside Gondola where they were working that night at a private function in the Raven’s Nest Café.

When the men failed to meet up with the truck, the alert was sounded. Roughly an hour later Whistler Ski Patrol discovered the crash site.

Coroner Jan MacFayden could not comment in detail about the case only to say the visibility was clear and it was spring conditions with soft and slushy snow warmed by the afternoon sun.

She said speed may have been a factor but that hasn’t been proven yet.

"It’s a terrible thing to lose two young men like that so suddenly, for families, for friends, everyone," said MacFayden. "It’s very, very hard."

Kontor and Bradford began working for Whistler-Blackcomb early this year as lift operators on Whistler. An online report on the Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday said Bradford was on the last leg of a world trip with his fiancée Ashleigh. He was due to return home in August.

Kontor had come to Whistler to work after studying at Edith Cowan University in Perth.

Autopsies and toxicology reports will be done on both men although police said there is no indication at this point that alcohol was involved.