Police admit errors over dead skier

Thu Feb 26, 2009 3:08pm EST
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian police admitted on Thursday that they had been slow to start looking for a pair of lost skiers, one of whom died after the couple spent more than a week wandering in the Rocky Mountains.

Gilles Blackburn, 51, and his 44-year-old wife Marie-Josee Fortin skied out of bounds at a resort in the British Columbia town of Golden on Feb 15 but were not found until Feb 24. Fortin had frozen to death.

The skiers left a series of distress signals but on the first two occasions these were spotted and reported to authorities -- on Feb 17 and Feb 21 -- the Royal Canadian Mounted Police did not order a search.

"In similar circumstances ... we do call out search and rescue (teams). We didn't in this incident," police spokesman Corporal Dan Moskaluk told a televised news conference in Golden.

"Search and rescue should have been called out on Feb 21. There is an error on behalf of the RCMP for not initiating a call out on Feb 21," he said, adding that the force was investigating what had happened.

Moskaluk said part of the problem was that no one realized the couple, visiting from Quebec, were missing. Police checks of hotels and the resort did not reveal missing guests or rental equipment that was overdue.

To make matters worse, the pair were not dressed for back country skiing in cold conditions. They carried no water and had only two granola bars for food.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Frank McGurty)