On December 19, 2000, roughly 24 hours before opening day at British Columbia's Fernie Alpine Resort, life operator Ryan Radchenko skied off-limits on his lunch break, triggering an avalanche that carried him 450 feet before burying him alive.
A patroller who witnessed the slide put out a radio call to summon Keno, snow-safety supervisor Robin Sigger's five-year-old SAR-trained Labrador/Border collie mix, who was whisked from the base area by snowmobile.
Siggers, who was already on the mountain, took a lift to the scene and began assisting with the search. "I was well aware of the statistics," he says. "I was praying Keno would arrive soon."
There are more than 2,000 trained SAR dogs in North America, and they often prove invaluable during desperate, time-limited searches. At Fernie, despite ten rescuers frantically thrusting eight-foot probes into the debris pile, they'd turned up nothing by the time Keno arrived 18 minutes later. The dog immediately bolted 30 feet below the probe line and emerged with a leather glove in his teeth.
"He's trained to dig like crazy when he funds a person," says Siggers. "About a foot below the surface, he uncovered Ryan's hand."
The rescuers pulled Radchenko out, semiconscious but unhurt—the first live avalanche find by a rescue dog in Canada. Keno, though, had an insider's odds: The previous summer, Radchenko did carpentry work with Siggers at Fernie, telling Keno repeatedly, "Hey, you'd better get a good sniff in case you have to find me someday."