Ski trip turns tragic for Quebec couple lost in B.C. back country
By The Canadian Press
GOLDEN, B.C. - A Quebec couple lost for nine days in British Columbia's back country in the dead of winter built SOS signs before the man eventually waved down a helicopter flying overhead.
But their ordeal ended with both an incredible tale of survival and a tragedy, after the woman died before rescue came.
RCMP said Wednesday the couple went missing while skiing out of bounds in the Rockies in southeastern B.C. on Feb. 15 .
Temperatures in Golden, the nearest community to the ski resort, ranged from a high of 5C one day to a low of -18C overnight.
Const. Annie Linteau said the man's survival is incredible.
"They only had in their possession two granola bars. No water. Apparently they may have had access to a creek that was nearby, and of course the snow in the area. It appears he may have eaten some foliage."
The 51-year-old man was in the hospital in Golden, B.C., recovering from frostbite and other symptoms of exposure. An autopsy will be conducted on his 44-year-old wife Friday.
Linteau said the couple, from the Montreal suburb of Lasalle, were on a ski holiday when they decided to hit the slopes at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
They failed to return but police didn't know the couple was missing until the day before they were found, although there were indications long before then that someone was in trouble.
Two days after the couple was lost in the out-of-bounds area, on Feb. 17, an off-duty ski guide who was ski touring in the area spotted an SOS sign in the snow and some tracks.
The ski guide reported the strange sighting to his employer, Purcell Helicopter Skiing, which reported it to the resort, which in turn told local search and rescue officials.
The resort and rescue officials checked unreturned rental skis, missing persons reports and any vehicles that may have been left in the parking lot overnight.
There was no indication anyone was missing, and a ground search wasn't launched.
On Feb. 21 the same group of skiers flew over the area and saw two more SOS symbols, and again notified Purcell, which this time reported to RCMP at the nearby Golden detachment.
Linteau said police contacted the local search and rescue operation and were told the sighting had already been investigated.
"The SOS symbol appeared to be not fresh and they did not start a search," Linteau said.
Purcell said a fourth SOS sign was spotted by a heli-skiing tour on Feb. 24.
"While circling the area to get a GPS co-ordinate one person was noticed waving his arms," the company said in a statement. "The helicopter was not able to land, so immediately reported the GPS co-ordinates and sighting to the base, who in turn notified the Golden RCMP and requested search and rescue response."
Rescuers found the man alive but it was too late for his wife.
"It's a very, very tragic story," Linteau said.
Linteau said the couple left Quebec and arrived in British Columbia on Feb. 14. They spent that night at a hotel in Golden and went skiing the next day.
"At that time they made the decision to ski out of bounds and became lost," she said.
Police are still trying to trace the couple's actions, and figure out why no one reported them missing until Montreal authorities were alerted by family members on Feb. 23, when they didn't return from the trip to Banff.
A call to Kicking Horse Resort was not immediately returned, nor was an official with Golden and District Search and Rescue available to comment.
"Pretty much around the same time that we were being notified that someone has been rescued ...is around the same time that we are alerted that those individuals are missing," Linteau said.
She couldn't explain why the couple didn't tell anyone where they were going and what they would be doing.
"We don't advise anyone to ski out of bounds. But certainly give a detailed itinerary to someone who could report it to police if you are missing," she said.
The names of the couple were not released. Linteau said police are still trying to locate one of the woman's children and it will be up to family members whether identities will be released after that.
She said police have spoken to the man, who remained in hospital recovering from the ordeal.
"I can't really imagine what this man faced during the nine days he was lost," Linteau said.
"It's remarkable that he managed to survive for nine days."