Five French tourists are missing and their local tour guide, a man of 42, is dead after their snowmobiles left established paths and ventured onto snow-covered ice where there are known to be rapids.
The snowmobiles crashed through ice Tuesday evening at a risky spot where Saint-Jean Lake funnels into a river.
Dozens of police officers, backed by two helicopters, also were deployed in the area, which is about 225km north of Quebec City.
Sgt. Hugues Beaulieu of the provincial police said a group of foreign tourists and their guide were travelling by snowmobile between St-Henri-de-Taillon and Alma when the ice gave way.
Two snowmobiles similar to those used by the original group of eight tourists and their Canadian guide were found on Wednesday at the bottom of Saint-Jean Lake near where the accident occurred. The region of Lac Saint-Jean and Saguenay, where the group went missing, has hundreds of kilometres of well-maintained trails through boreal forest and picturesque towns.
Divers will be using underwater propulsion vehicles to speed up the search and broaden their scope, and searchers will be equipped with lateral, handheld sonar devices to scan the lake bed and ice cover.
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Claude Abel, mayor of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines in northeastern France near the German border, said he knows two of the five missing snowmobilers.
The three survivors are "physically doing well, but are in shock", he said.
Quebec's public safety minister said that French authorities have been informed of the incident.
"The important thing is to find them", she said at a command post erected on the site.
Powerful snowmobiles on skis, which can reach the speed of 140 kilometers per hour, are popular with Quebecers and foreign tourists, but cause numerous accidents each year. "They know you shouldn't go near the Grande Decharge because there's a dam lower down, so the water isn't calm".
Above all, he was an experienced guide with over 15 years experience who had taken a number of safety courses at the company the two of them formerly worked for, his former colleague said.