SOS message of "HELP" spelled out in snow near orange flag and white car
Photo credit: Columbia Valley Search and Rescue.

Missing Car Campers Write SOS Message in Snow

After getting stuck, two campers wrote an SOS message in the snow. The message helped search-and-rescue workers find them.

Catherine Gibbons and Damon Brodeur were backcountry camping when their car got stuck on a snowy slope. The stranded campers ended up spending 5 nights stranded in a British Columbia valley. Their SOS message in the snow probably saved their lives.

When they realized they needed a rescue, they wrote a large “HELP” message in the snow to hopefully attract attention. While waiting, the pair of campers slept in their SUV, then in an abandoned cabin.

“They put out an orange tarp, or blanket, and had written ‘help’ in the snow and also drew an arrow to where they were,” said Steve Talsma, search manager with Columbia Valley Search and Rescue. Ultimately, a search-and-rescue crew in an aircraft spotted the snowy SOS message and got them out.

Be Prepared for Winter

When they hadn’t returned, family members reported them missing to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. However, the two hadn’t told their family where they would be or when they’d be back.

It’s always crucial to let someone know where you are and when you’re returning, and carry survival gear in case something goes wrong. A shortlist of things to carry in your vehicle in winter include a flashlight, emergency blanket, extra layers, and a shovel. It’s also a good idea to have extra food and water.

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Police noted that the pair was well-provisioned with warm clothing and food. But it’s unclear what other equipment they carried in their car. It’s very good practice to plan for self-rescue in all circumstances, but particularly critical during winter travel off main roads.

Without more information, it’s difficult to know what their own self-rescue would have entailed. But oftentimes a few inexpensive items like tire chains, a shovel, an axe, and Maxtrax will be enough to get a stuck car moving again.

Check out the article linked above and be prepared for the unexpected. As Steve Talsma, search manager with Columbia Valley Search and Rescue, told the CBC, “It worked out this time, but if they weren’t prepared and the cabin wasn’t nearby, it might have had a different outcome,” he said.

Mary Murphy

Mary is the Managing Editor of GearJunkie and is based in GearJunkie's Denver, Colo. office. She has a degree in English and journalism, and has a background in both newspaper and magazine writing. Her outdoor interests span from running to sport climbing, from landscape photography to skiing to pack-paddleboarding. If she's not writing, you can most likely find her at the top of a fourteener, or in a local bakery.