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Williams Lake woman survives snowmobile crash, rescue in the backcountry

‘Sheila Butler has a long recovery ahead of her’: said organizer of online auction
Sheila Butler was seriously injured in a snowmobile accident near Hendrix Lake in the South Cariboo Saturday, Jan. 22. Friends and family are fundraising for her and her family while she recovers in hospital. (Photo submitted)

Friends and family are rallying to support a Williams Lake area woman seriously injured while snowmobiling near Hendrix Lake in the South Cariboo on Saturday, Jan. 22.

Sheila Butler was snowmobiling with a group of friends and family when the accident occurred.

Her cousin Arnie Kunka and his son Donny were part of the group.

Kunka told the Tribune they were on their way down just before 5 p.m. after having a great day when the accident happened.

Butler went down a steep gully and was thrown off her sled. She landed on her back and was buried under about two feet of snow.

Moments later another sledder was unable to stop and landed on top of her.

“For a minute we could not find her there was so much snow,” Kunka said as he described how four of them ran to pull the sled off and scooped the snow to expose her head and body.

When they uncovered her head, they thought she was gone.

As Kunka removed her helmet Butler took a large gasp of air.

The sledders began providing C-Spine to maintain her airway.

“I put my head close to hers to try to get her to talk and she started to respond,” Kunka said, adding they used blankets and a fire to keep her warm.

Fortunately, Donny had his Zoleo satellite communicator to send the coordinates of where they were and Kunka told Donny to call his mom and tell her to phone 9-1-1 that they were about six kilometres from the Hendrix Lake townsite.

Eventually some other sledders arrived to help and one of them - Michelle Ball - had level three first aid.

“Michelle took over and was awesome. She really brought our spirits back up,” Kunka said.

It was shortly after that the South Cariboo Search and Rescue arrived, took over the first aid treatment until an ER physician and an anesthesiologist arrived on a Talon helicopter deployed by North Shore Search and Rescue, equipped with night vision.

READ MORE: Emergency crews team up for mountain rescue near Hendrix Lake

Butler was transported to Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake, medevaced to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops on Sunday and transferred to Vancouver on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Kunka said Butler was undergoing surgery on her neck Wednesday, Jan. 26 and reported that evening the surgery went well.

Kunka said he never used a communication device in the past until Donny was injured while they were snowmobling in a remote location a few years ago.

After his experience Saturday, he said he will now pack more items in his first aid kit.

He had enough stuff, but would have liked to have more compression bandages, for example.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is to be prepared.”

When Butler got a job in Williams Lake two years ago, she moved in with Kunka and his family and became more like a sister, he added.

“It has impacted everyone who was there - I had nightmares all night afterwards,” he said.

Butler has a long recovery ahead of her and will be off work for an undetermined amount of time, said Cordy Cox, a life-long friend and West Chilcotin rancher who has started an online fundraiser to help Butler and her family get through this time.

Cox said Butler is one of the hardest working and strongest people ‘you will ever meet, and incredibly talented.’

“Knowing Sheila in the way that I do, I knew that she would be extremely worried about her job and her family.”

Cox hopes the fundraiser will ease the burden on Butler so she can focus on her recovery.

“I have no doubt that Sheila will rise above this and overcome any obstacles, just like she has so many times before in her life.”

Butler has deep ties to the Chilcotin having been raised at Bluff Lake.

She is a mother and a grandmother.

The online fundraising auction taking place closes Thursday, Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. Cash donations are also appreciated with all proceeds going directly to Butler.

Anyone wanting to donate to the online fundraiser can contact Cox directly on Facebook or email

With files from Melissa Smalley

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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