Police resume search for 5 snowmobilers from France missing in Quebec

ST-HENRI-DE-TAILLON, Que. — Quebec provincial police have resumed a search effort for five missing snowmobilers from France who disappeared in frigid waters while riding off-trail in the province’s Lac-Saint-Jean region.

Divers, snowmobilers, ice rescue specialists and a drone are among the resources being mobilized in the area where the French tourists disappeared Tuesday, as the wait stretches on for loved ones awaiting news.

Benoit L’Esperance of Montreal — who was serving as a guide to a group of eight French tourists — died several hours after being admitted to hospital Tuesday night, while three members of the party reached safety.

Police and military helicopters surveyed the area Thursday, and a side-scan sonar was used to provide images of the bottom of the lake in an effort to identify forms similar to objects or people.

Divers have been using underwater propulsion to cover a larger area, while 30 officers search the ground about 200 kilometres north of Quebec City.

While two snowmobiles were located under the water by searchers late Wednesday, there was no sign of the missing snowmobilers.

Meanwhile, in the east of France, it was an agonizing wait for news of the five missing men.

The mayor of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, in northeastern France near the German border, said he knew two of the five missing snowmobilers. Claude Abel said the whole region was upset.

“All we can do in this situation of waiting and worry is to bring a little support to the family and loved ones,” he said in a phone interview.

Abel said 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 projects, who loved life,” he said in a phone interview.

French sports news outlet L’Equipe reported that the father of French biathlete Fabien Claude was also among the missing.

Claude dedicated his first podium finish, a bronze in the World Cup event in Pokljuka, Slovenia, to his father Gilles, the station reported.

The tourists were travelling between St-Henri-de-Taillon and Alma when the ice gave away.

In the day following the accident, questions have swirled as to why the guided group would have veered so far off the marked trail in an area known to be dangerous due to thin ice and swift currents.

On Thursday, Quebec Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx announced the provincial government would require guides and tourists who use off-road vehicles to complete a training course.

She said eco-tourism companies would henceforth have to complete an accreditation process with the province in order to qualify for funding.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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