Skier dies while missing |

Skier dies while missing

GOLDEN, British Columbia ” A woman skier died while stranded with her husband in rugged backcountry for days, and Canada’s national police force admitted Thursday that authorities did not react to initial reports of an SOS signal stamped out on a mountainside.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police didn’t begin combing the area until a week later ” after a passing helicopter spotted Gilles Blackburn, 50, signaling for help. It was too late for the man’s wife, Marie-Josee Fortin, 44, who had already died.

Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said local officials didn’t pass along the Feb. 17 report to the RCMP, after the nearby Kicking Horse ski resort didn’t find any sign of missing or overdue skiers, but he added that officers also did not search the area after being told of the SOS four days after that.

“There’s an error on the part of the RCMP for not initiating a callout on Feb. 21,” Moskaluk said.

Blackburn was treated for frostbite, but an autopsy was pending to determine the cause of his wife’s death.

According to Moskaluk’s account, the Quebec couple became lost when they skied out of bounds from the ski resort Feb. 15. Two days later, an off-duty ski guide touring in the area spotted tracks and an SOS stamped into the snow.

The guide contacted his employer, Purcell Helicopter Skiing, which told the resort. The resort informed local search-and-rescue officials. No search was ordered because resort and rescue officials didn’t find any indication of unreturned rental skis, missing persons reports or vehicles left in the parking lot.

On Feb. 21, skiers saw two more SOS symbols and notified Purcell, which this time reported it to the RCMP.

But it wasn’t until a heli-skiing tour spotted Blackburn waving his arms for help Feb. 24 that police acted.

Temperatures in Golden ranged from a high of 41 degrees one day to a low of zero degrees overnight during the period the couple was stranded.

Moskaluk said an independent review would investigate why police didn’t search when the SOS was first reported.

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