One snowmobiler is dead and another is missing after the two men went into the Athabasca River northwest of Whitecourt late Saturday night.
RCMP said that one of the men tried to run his snowmobile across open water on the river just before midnight.
When his machine sank, submerging the snowmobiler, another man went into the river to rescue him — only to disappear into the water himself.
A STARS air ambulance was called in and worked through the night to locate the men, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
A body, believed to be one of the snowmobilers, was later recovered from the river by Edmonton fire and rescue workers.
“As we speak, we are on the river bank and are in full rescue mode,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Rodney Koscielny.
“We are running our RCMP helicopter and have other people out looking.”
Koscielny said that the partial ice coverage on the river is complicating search efforts.
“It’s obviously tricky,” said Koscielny. “He did go underwater with the other other male — and traveled underwater probably for quite some time.”
“There’s a lot of ice pack on the river, so if a person gets trapped under the water they could end up trapped under the ice... There’s [also] lots of logs and trees and debris along the river [that he] could get hung up on.”
Although chances may be slim, Koscielny said that emergency responders are still treating the search as though the missing male is alive.
“We are hopeful always that this person is alive and maybe just needs help.”
Whitecourt mayor Trevor Thain said residents in Whitecourt are concerned and upset over the accident, which police believe may have involved alcohol.
“It’s sort of senseless for people to die like that,” said Thain, who also noted that accidents like this are extremely rare in the area.
“The Athabasca is known for its fast water,” he said. “In fact, it’s one of the fastest flowing rivers in North America — and it’s a river that people should use extreme caution on when they’re on or near.”