It was the longest 30 hours of Penticton resident Bernard Cloutier’s life.
The hardcore hiker had been solo ‘wilderness adventure trek’ in Cathedral Lakes Park since July 27, when the Crater Creek wildfire ripped through the area.
It was near the end of his trip on Tuesday (Aug.15) when he was met with flames.
“The possibility of frying into bacon for bears was a real possibility for me,” reflects Cloutier. “I was the last one from the park.”
Ten hours into the ordeal, he could not find sleep.
“On Wednesday helicopters came and left three times leaving with shaken hopes every time. It was the longest and most intense 30 hours of my life,” said Cloutier, who has many long multi-day remote hikes under his belt.
Hope was finally found when he received a text message from Kevin Wilson, the park manager informing him that the first helicopter had seen him and to stay put.
Wednesday evening, Aug. 16, Penticton Search and Rescue members and their helicopter were activated to make the daring and dangerous rescue.
BC Wildfire referenced the rescue of the hiker as extremely complicated but successful.
Guests and staff at the Cathedral Lakes Lodge were told to shelter in place when the fire became aggressive Tuesday night, Aug. 15. The fire had toppled trees onto the roadway making the road impassable.
Firefighters cleared the trees the next morning and were able to safely take a convoy of around 80 people out from the lodge.
But for Coultier he had to wait in the forest with fire all around.
The rescue helicopter hovered over him.
“The pines all around swing violently in random directions. I see danger and they see it too,” said Coultier, as he remembered thinking that extraction from the forest wouldn’t be possible.
He recalled watching the helicopter fly away from him and feeling terrified and helpless.
Twenty minutes later, however, the helicopter came back. The side door opened and a message written on a piece of paper attached to a weight dropped from above, down to the waiting hiker.
It says, ‘Head Back Towards Trail Head (North) We Will Meet With You’
This was the same direction as the fire zone.
“And, then I realize there may not be a tomorrow for me if I stay here now,” he recounted.
Norm Cole and Rob Burley from Penticton Search and Rescue were the two to find Coultier and bring him to a location 1,200 feet higher, right in the middle of the raging line of fire, where the helicopter was able to land.
It was there that Coultier was able to get into the helicopter and back to safety, feeling lucky to be alive.
“I am immensely grateful for these brave folks who interrupted their lives to put themselves at risk and, the folks on the ground coordinating the operation to rescue me.”
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