Body recovered from Quebec's Lac Saint-Jean, 4 snowmobilers still missing

The body of one of the five snowmobilers missing in Quebec's Lac Saint-Jean region since late Tuesday has been found, provincial police say.

Police divers located the body Friday afternoon about two kilometres downstream from where the group of snowmobilers broke through the ice on La Grande Décharge, an outlet to Lac Saint-Jean located about 70 kilometres northwest of Saguenay.

The group of eight French nationals, led by a guide, were trying to cross a snow-covered channel between the towns of Saint-Henri-de-Taillon and Alma when the ice gave way.

The guide, found due to the light on his helmet, was pulled from the water by Alma firefighters soon after the accident. He died several hours later in hospital. Three others from the group survived without serious injury.

Police are not identifying the body found Friday. A Quebec coroner will perform an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death before the body is repatriated to France.

Teams of divers, supported by a Sûreté du Québec helicopter, will continue to search the freezing waters Saturday for the four other missing tourists, according to SQ spokesperson Sgt. Hugues Beaulieu.

Flavie Villeneuve/Radio-Canada

He said conditions are optimal for divers, who will intensify their efforts in the area where the body was found Friday.

While they will focus on that location, Beaulieu said rescuers aren't neglecting other sectors, as the area left to search is "extremely large."

"At this moment, there is no question of abandoning the search," he said.

About 30 provincial police officers are involved. Rescuers with specialized training to work on ice, snowmobile units and drones have also been deployed.

On Thursday, the divers found personal effects, including clothing belonging to the missing people. They have also located six of the seven snowmobiles.

LaForest offers support 

Andrée LaForest, the provincial minister responsible for the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, offered her condolences to the victims' loved ones.

"We are with you, the French families, and we will continue the search," said LaForest, speaking to reporters at the SQ's mobile command centre.

"I also offer my support to the community of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean who are affected by this event."

LaForest said the investigation into the circumstances behind the tragedy — in particular, why the guide was leading the group across a section of ice known to be dangerous — is still under investigation.

She thanked all those who have assisted with the search and encouraged those snowmobiling on Quebec's vast network of trails to do so carefully this weekend.

She said the province is working closely with the French Consulate to return the body to France.

Frédéric Sanchez, consul general of France in Quebec, said French authorities are supporting the victims' families, keeping them informed about the search.

"This is a tragic accident," he said. "We are all saddened by this situation."