The front page of the Hope Standard for Jan. 13, 1965 detailing the search efforts for the victims of the Hope Slide. Photo: Hope Standard.

The front page of the Hope Standard for Jan. 13, 1965 detailing the search efforts for the victims of the Hope Slide. Photo: Hope Standard.

Golden Country: Rescuers try to find, and identify, the Hope Slide victims

Four people had been at the site when the slide hit: but who were they?

In the early morning of January 9, 1965, 27-year-old Bernie Lloyd Beck and his passengers Dennis Arlitt (23) and Mary Kalmakoff (21), who were in Beck’s 1957 yellow Ford convertible, had been the first to encounter a slide across the Hope-Princeton Highway about 24 km/15 miles east of Hope, sometime after 4 a.m. At around 4:45 a.m. truck driver Norman “Steph” Stephanishin pulled up behind them, followed by 39-year-old truck driver Thomas Starchuk.

Steph had headed back to Sumallo Lodge to summon help, leaving his rig—too big to turn around—at the site. The other four also stayed: Starchuk to catch up on some sleep and the others to try to dig the car free. When a second slide hit just before 7 a.m., they had no chance of survival.

The debris had spread along three kilometres of highway and buried the valley floor and highway to depths of 60 m/200 feet. Highways Minister “Flying” Phil Gaglardi had been told of the disaster, as had the Princeton RCMP, where detachment commander Cpl. Leonard Brown alerted members of the Princeton Search and Rescue group, of which he was a member. The rescuers arrived at the slide by noon, and true to his nickname, Gaglardi arrived there shortly after by helicopter. It was promptly requisitioned by the Princeton group, with rescuer Jack Broderick climbing aboard to survey the site.

Stephanishin had reported that three young people in a convertible, as well as a truck driver with a load of hay, had been at the initial slide site. The tanks of Steph’s oil truck were spotted washed up along the side of Johnson Peak to the north, and with the helicopter hovering just above the debris, Broderick stood on the pontoon and tested the surface with his feet, while members of the rescue group struggled through the snow, rocks, and mud, trying to find a firm pathway to the truck.

When a path had been determined the rescuers roped themselves together in teams of five so that no one could sink below the surface and be lost, and made their way to the remains of Stephanishin’s truck. From there they fanned out, and soon found some of Starchuk’s rig. They began digging, hoping to find some traces of the four who had been lost.

A trained RCMP dog named Prince was flown in from Cloverdale, and Bob Sowden—son of the owner of Sumallo Lodge, and a founder of Hope Search and Rescue—brought Timber, his German Shepherd, to the site. Prince located two men’s jackets, one of which had no identifying marks. In the pocket of the other was an insurance card in the name of Thomas Starchuk.

The dogs had focused their attention on two areas, and their behaviour indicated that they had found something. However, by 4 p.m. it was too dark and dangerous for anyone to remain at the site, so the search was called off for the day. It was assumed that Thomas Starchuk was the truck driver who had been lost; but who were the other three?

Stephanishin returned to the Princeton RCMP detachment, where he answered more questions about the slide and who he had seen there. As he described the three who had been in the yellow convertible, two people who happened to be present suggested that the descriptions of the men matched those of Bernie Beck and Dennis Arlitt, both of whom they knew.

Relatives of the two men were contacted, and when he saw the pictures they supplied, Steph was able to make a positive identification. This led to Mary Kalmakoff—a good friend of Arlitt’s, who Beck was driving down to her sister’s home in Agassiz—being tentatively identified as the third occupant of the convertible. When a photograph of Kalmakoff was shown to Stephanishin at his Kamloops home on January 10, he immediately identified her as the third occupant of the convertible.

The death toll was officially set at four, as no other vehicles or people were identified as missing, and the five vehicles that had set out eastbound from Hope along the Hope-Princeton between 3:30 and 4 a.m. on January 9 were accounted for: one had been stopped on the west side of the initial slide and had turned back, one had developed engine trouble and returned to Hope, and the other three made it through before the first slide came down at 3:56 a.m.

Two Highways Department employees, heading east to the headquarters at Allison Pass, were the first people on the west side of the slide to realize what had happened. They returned to Hope, got ropes, and went back to the site, trying to find solid footing on the unstable terrain, while more debris came down the side of Johnson Peak.

At 8:20 a.m., Hope RCMP were alerted to the fact that two cabins on the western edge of the slide had been destroyed. Members of Hope Search and Rescue picked their way across the debris and determined that the cabins had been unoccupied. They also looked for any signs that other vehicles had been trapped, the search made more difficult by the rocks that continually fell down the side of Johnson Peak, careening in every direction and threatening the searchers.

The Hope searchers, like their Princeton counterparts, called off their search when it became dark. The next day they were back, reinforced by searchers from Chilliwack and a four-man team of Canadian Army Engineers from CFB Chilliwack, and were taken by air to where the Princeton Search and Rescue group had left markers on the eastern edge of the slide. The cab of Thomas Starchuk’s hay truck was discovered, and soon after searchers located the body of Bernie Lloyd Beck amid the frozen boulders, mud, trees, and truck parts.

An hour later Thomas Starchuk’s body was located and recovered. Timber concentrated his attention on a crevice, where the searchers hoped to locate Arlitt and/or Kalmakoff, but Prince did not react at the spot, and no bodies were located. The searchers surmised that the pair might have been in the cab of Stephanishin’s truck, keeping warm, but while the truck’s pup was barely damaged, the cab was never found; nor were the bodies of Dennis Arlitt and Mary Kalmakoff, or the 1957 convertible in which they were travelling.

To be continued

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