Searchers did not return to Johnsons Landing on Thursday after the BC Coroners service concluded the first phase of the recovery operation on Wednesday night.
After six full days of searching on the debris field the remains of two victims have been found and the other two are still missing.
“When we took over the recovery effort on Sunday and I travelled to the site, I said that our first job would be assessing the site and determine the possibility for successful recovery of victims,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe on Wednesday.
“The conclusion of today’s search and the end of the first phase, it’s now time to reassess that situation. The search began in the areas where we believed we had the best chance to recover victims and that was near the foundations of the homes that were destroyed in the slide. By doing this our highly skilled search teams were able to recover two of the victims. Further work in those areas has no resulted in positive results.”
The BC coroners service had been working with the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team from Vancouver, local search and rescue and the RCMP to search the areas around Valentine Webber’s home and the home of Petra Frehse, who is still missing.
The remains of a male believed to be Webber were found Sunday near the foundation of his home and on Monday afternoon the body of a young woman believed to be Rachel or Diana Webber was also recovered near the home.
“The areas near the foundations are only a miniscule part of the whole debris field, which covers a total of 83 acres,” said Lapointe. “This is a huge area, and that is why we need to step back now and consider our options in terms of recovery of the other two victims and whether there is are realistic possibility that others will be found in this area.”
Lapointe said she couldn’t give a specific time frame on when the next phase of the operation would begin but emphasized they need to balance the effort to find the other victims with the safety of those working on the landslide.
“We’re also very cognizant of the safety of the searchers,” she said. “The area remains unstable. It is very dangerous. We do have a number of significant safety precautions in place to ensure the safety of those who have been searching on the hill and we have been very, very fortunate that we have not had an incident which I think speaks highly of the professionalism of those involved in this recovery effort, but the slide area remains unstable and is dangerous.”
While officials reassess the operation, Lapointe said because of the size of the debris field they will consider that they may never locate the other two victims.
“I think we have to consider that there is potential that we may never locate the two other victims,” she said.
“We will try to make a determination as to the most likely areas where we may find more victims and we will make some assessment as to how we may recover them safely. But of course, there are no guarantees. We might excavate several tons more earth and never find them. Will we excavate the whole site? I don’t think that’s going to happen. We have 83 acres of slide area.”
Lapointe and other officials asking that the public not come to Johnsons Landing to see the landslide that devastated the community last week.
“I want to stress to those who live in the community or to those who are may be interested in viewing the slide, the area is highly unstable and very, very dangerous,” she said.