Two men died after being trapped in their snow-covered vehicle overnight on the main street of Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, in the Chaudière-Appalaches region about an hour northeast of Quebec City
One of the men made a 911 call to Quebec provincial police at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night.
Lt. Martine Asselin of the Sûreté du Québec said the man reported the second person with him appeared to be having an asthma attack.
Asselin said ambulances were dispatched but couldn't get close to the vehicle because of the intense weather conditions.
Police then tried to reach them on snowmobiles, but those, in turn, got stuck in the snow near Exit 369 on Highway 20, about two kilometres short of the spot where the stranded vehicle was believed to be.
Police crawled, swam through snow
"Officers practically crawled through the snow — or swam through the snow," Asselin said, to try to reach the trapped men.
Asselin said police had used the 911 caller's cell phone geo-locator to find the spot, and when they arrived, they started digging for the vehicle.
"They weren't able to find it," she said. "At some point, they had to stop, because they were freezing, and their own lives were at risk.
She said the officers then retreated to a nearby home to warm up.
Helicopter grounded by high winds
Asselin said they then explored other options.
They had to scrap efforts to get snow removal equipment from the closest town because the equipment had been damaged during operations earlier that night.
They then checked hospitals to see if the men had possibly made it out of the car themselves.
Asselin said police also considered trying to use a helicopter, but due to the weather, that was also impossible.
Finally, around 6 a.m., officers were able to make it to the area using a backhoe and found the vehicle.
The two men, aged 33 and 41, were still inside, but they were no longer alive.
The causes of death won't be confirmed until autopsies are performed.
Three other people were stranded in the area when their three vehicles became stuck. All three — two women, aged 27 and 37, and a 40-year-old man — were rescued safely by local volunteer firefighters, snowmobile club members, paramedics and police.