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Be prepared: Hikers rescued from Maple Mountain by air-force chopper Sunday
Two local hikers got a free chopper rescue for Christmas after being plucked from Maple Mountain early Sunday, search officials says.
The middle-age male and female Cowichanians — stranded without survival clothing or gear on steep terrain Saturday night — were hoisted to safety by the crew of an RCAF Cormorant from 19 Wing Comox sometime after 1 a.m. Dec. 23.
The avid hikers' names haven't been released.
They were rescued after using a cellphone to call 911 for help, explained Tina Phillips, search manager with Cowichan Search and Rescue.
Their ordeal started after heading out around 3 p.m. Saturday.
"They wanted to go from the Maple Bay side to the Crofton side, but there are many trail systems.
"The trails are supposed to be well marked but dirt-bike trails are also marked, and some markers confuse people," said Phillips, reckoning the hikers missed a trail fork and perhaps wandered onto a bike path, as chilly darkness fell.
Using phone coordinates from B.C. Tel, 15 searchers in four teams spent five hours combing those trails until calling the air-force chopper, she explained.
The shivering hikers had no heat source nor flares, but did take a headlamp and a whistle.
Still, wind and darkness prevented searchers from spotting the pair, she said.
"We were texting back and forth the whole time, to stop their phone battery from running low."
Meanwhile, North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP's SOS reached Victoria's Joint Rescue Coordination Centre.
After calling the pair to help pinpoint their location, the 42 Squadron helicopter circled the rugged back country area, and its searchlights were spotted by the hikers.
"They'd been hiking, took a wrong turn, and found themselves in steep terrain and couldn't get back where they came from," Capt. Trevor Reid of 19 Wing told the News Leader Pictorial.
"With the helicopter hovering near a tall cliff, Search and Rescue technicians and the flight engineer worked to hoist the pair onto the helicopter before low clouds could move in," the air force's press release reads.
"Search and Rescue gave them initial treatment for exposure to cold weather," Reid said.
The yellow bird landed on Cowichan Rugby Club's field where the tired hikers were checked by paramedics for hypothermia, then taken to their vehicles.
Phillips noted preparation is key to prevent what might have been a tragedy.
"Be prepared to be out overnight, at least.
"If they'd had a source of heat, that would have helped a lot."
Still, their helicopter-rescue costs were free, said Reid.
"We don't charge for search and rescue — this is a service paid for by taxpayers.
"We urge people in trouble to let us know."