Court documents filed in Vancouver say a Quebec couple made “a deliberate choice” to ski out of bounds at a British Columbia ski resort last February and cannot blame the police and others for the tragic consequences.
In an updated statement of defence, RCMP, the Golden and District Search and Rescue Association and the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort say the husband and wife went out of bounds unprepared and with no knowledge of the terrain.
The new documents, filed in late November, add further details to the original statement of defence that was filed by police, the rescuers and the resort in July.
Gilles Blackburn, 51, filed lawsuits against the three parties in May after his 44-year-old wife Marie-Josee Fortin froze to death during their 10-day ordeal which began on Feb. 15.
Mr. Blackburn is suing for negligence claiming that between Feb. 17 and 21, all three organizations were informed of SOS signals he stamped into the snow in the mountains near Golden, 700 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, but did not launch a search.
On Feb. 24, the pilot of a helicopter flying overhead spotted Mr. Blackburn frantically waving for help and he was rescued. Mr. Blackburn's wife died of hypothermia a few days earlier.
Mr. Blackburn has filed two lawsuits, one on his own behalf seeking damages for the physical and psychological injuries he suffered, including the permanent loss of parts of his feet, as well as nervous shock, depression, nightmares and anxiety.
The other lawsuit lists his children William and Laurence as plaintiffs seeking damages for the death of their mother.
In both lawsuits, the resort is accused of negligence for failing to post notices, warning signs or some kind of barrier on the resort boundary. The RCMP and search and rescue are both accused of negligence for failing to initiate a ground search and for failing to make reasonable enquiries into whether someone was missing.
The updated statement of defence says Mr. Blackburn was “making a deliberate choice” on a number of fronts when he skied outside the boundaries of the resort and that he “ought to have known” he wasn't properly trained for self-rescue and that nobody knew where he was or what to do if he didn't return.
It also states that Purcell Helicopter Skiing Ltd. “did not give the RCMP member all the information they had from observations made in the backcountry.”
It was an off-duty ski guide who worked for Purcell that spotted some tracks and an SOS stamped into the snow on Feb. 17, and reported the sighting to his employer. Purcell officials said they then told the resort, which in turn informed search-and-rescue officials.
On Feb. 21, skiers saw two more SOS symbols, and again notified Purcell officials, who reported it to RCMP at the nearby Golden detachment.
But it wasn't until a heli-skiing tour spotted Mr. Blackburn waving his arms for help that police acted.