Police find 4 more submerged snowmobiles near Lac Saint-Jean; 5 French tourists still missing
MONTREAL -- Quebec provincial police have now found six submerged snowmobiles as they continue their efforts to find five snowmobilers who went missing after their group plunged through the ice near Quebec's Lac Saint-Jean.
They found the machines in the waters of La Grande Décharge in the Saint-Henri-de-Taillon region of Lac Saint-Jean, about 500 kilometres north of Montreal.
Eight tourists from France and their tour guide were part of the group, Sûreté du Québec (SQ) spokesperson Hugues Beaulieu told CTV News.
He said three members of the group managed to help each other out of the water and rushed for help. They were treated for hypothermia.
Their tour guide, whom police identified as 42-year-old Benoît L'Espérance, was rescued by firefighters, but later died in hospital.
Some 30 officers, including divers, snowmobile patrollers, rescue specialists and a drone pilot are part of the search for the five snowmobilers still missing, a police spokesman said.
One snowmobile is still unaccounted for, the SQ added.
The SQ on Thursday also identified the five missing men, all tourists from France:
- Gilles Claude, 58
- Yan Thierry, 24
- Jean-René Dumoulin, 24
- Julien Benoît, 34
- Arnaud Antoine, 25
SQ officers say they are searching the shoreline in case some of the missing made it to shore. They are also assisting the province's coroner in an investigation.
Beaulieu says the area where the incident occurred isn’t on a marked trail, where snowmobilers are usually required to circulate. He adds provincial police do not recommend snowmobilers go off trail.
WAITING FOR NEWS
Claude Abel, mayor of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines in northeastern France near the German border, says he knows two of the five missing snowmobilers, adding the whole region is doing its best to support the families.
"All we can do in this situation of waiting and worrying is bring a little support to the family and loved ones," he said in a phone interview.
Abel says the two men in their 20s or 30s were motorsport enthusiasts and experienced snowmobilers who had been to Canada before.
"They were young people full of plans who loved life," he said.
Sports news outlet L'Équipe posted an interview with French biathlete Fabien Claude, whose father is among the missing.
Claude dedicated his first podium finish, a bronze in Thursday's World Cup event in Pokljuka, Slovenia, to his father Gilles, following the "tragic accident in Canada."
Search efforts involve police and Canadian Forces helicopters surveying the area from the air, as well as a side-scan sonar providing images of the bottom of the lake.
Gaëtan Gagné, president of the Lac-Saint-Jean snowmobile club, notes the area where the incident occurred is known to be extremely dangerous.
"Enthusiasts in the area, they know it well," he told CTV News. "They know you shouldn't go near the Grande Décharge because there's a dam lower down, so the water isn't calm. It almost never freezes."
Gagné adds the snowmobilers must have been "at least a couple of kilometres" off the trails, which he said are well-marked and easy to follow.
France Paradis, a retired journalist and snowmobiler who lives in the area, echoed Gagné's thoughts.
He says it's unusual for guided tours to be out at 7:30 p.m., especially in an area known for open water and fast currents.
"A professional guide who knows the area well would never go there, especially at this time of the year," he said.
On Thursday, Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx announced the Quebec government would require guides and tourists who use off-road vehicles to follow a training course.
She added eco-tourism companies will have to complete an accreditation process with the province in order to be eligible for funding.