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Quebec landslide survivor: ‘I knew that if I jumped out I’d die’

Rescuers prepare to search for workers in a quarry at L'Epiphanie, Que., on Jan. 29, 2013.


The survivor of a landslide has shared the harrowing story of his escape.

Benoit Robert told reporters Wednesday how he survived the previous day's incident in a Quebec gravel quarry, while two of his colleagues were still missing.

He choked up as he described the events, expressing his sadness over the ordeal his missing colleagues' families are facing.

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"It's hard, what I went through. But I'm still here," Mr. Robert said.

"I don't know if they are."

He said that when the ground began to rumble beneath him, in L'Epiphanie, Que., at first he thought he was having vision problems.

Mr. Robert was operating a hydraulic shovel. He said a female colleague in another vehicle, a truck, shouted, "'We're sliding. We're going to die!'" That woman is now missing.

He said he knew he would perish if he jumped from his vehicle; so, instead, he operated the big mechanical shovel, swinging it back and forth while trying to keep stable.

That's when he began to slide – about seven metres at first, then 50 more, Mr. Robert said.

"There was like a little avalanche in front of me – I knew that if I jumped out I'd die immediately," he said.

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After sliding the second time, he swung the shovel again and lodged it against the wall of earth. Once he felt the ground stabilize, he said he hopped out of the vehicle.

He walked another 50 metres until he reached a snowy plateau.

A provincial police helicopter swooped in later to evacuate him, lifting him up in a dramatic rescue operation.

But his colleagues haven't been found.

Before the helicopter arrived, Mr. Robert said he called out to the partly submerged truck, asking anyone to make a sound or knock if they were inside.

But he said he didn't hear a response.

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Rescue crews later managed to get into the truck, but they didn't find anyone. They suspended their search overnight and resumed it Wednesday morning.

Mr. Robert, 47, told his story at a brief news conference in a hospital just east of Montreal. He said he didn't blame his employers, Maskimo Construction Inc., whom he described as responsible and supportive.

He expressed gratitude for being alive.

"I thank God," he said, choking up again.

"I'm lucky. Others weren't as lucky as me."

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