The body of a Canadian hockey player, whose family searched for him for months after his sudden disappearance in Austria almost 14 years ago, has been found frozen in the Alps.
Duncan MacPherson, a National Hockey League first-round draft pick in 1984, was last seen on Aug. 9, 1989, while snowboarding on the Stubaier Glacier in the south Tyrol.
The body was discovered late last week by an employee at a summer ski resort in Neustift, which is about 40 kilometres southwest of Innsbruck near the Italian border.
MacPherson's parents, Bob and Lynda MacPherson, were scheduled to leave for Austria today.
"We feel very sad," said Lynda MacPherson, who was notified about the discovery Friday by a friend from Innsbruck, who met the couple during the first of their seven visits to Austria in search of their son.
The family was contacted by RCMP and Austrian officials on the weekend.
"At 3,000 metres, the body would be pretty well frozen the whole time. His identification was in his pocket," Lynda MacPherson said. "They didn't have a problem identifying him. His dental records are there and our DNA is there.
"Even so, I have to see the body. I have to know for certain that it is him."
MacPherson was 23 when he disappeared while on his way to take a job as a coach with a hockey team in Dundee, Scotland.
He was a young defenceman playing junior hockey with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League when he was drafted 20th overall by the New York Islanders in 1984. He finished up with the Blades in 1986 and played three pro seasons with the American Hockey League, but never made a career in the NHL.
After his contract with the Islanders expired in 1989, he accepted an offer to become a player-coach for the Scottish Dundee Tigers.
His disappearance was riddled with unanswered questions and prompted his parents and girlfriend, Tara Anderson, to spend six weeks in Europe searching for clues.
The MacPhersons had originally been told their son's rented snowboard and boots had been returned to the ski resort. The mystery deepened when a new red Opel Corsa that MacPherson had borrowed from a West German hockey friend was found on Sept. 21 in a parking lot at a spot where a cable car takes people to a glacier skiing area.
"When you're continually told that the snowboard and boots have been returned, it makes you think, 'Well, then, what else could have happened if it wasn't a snowboarding accident?' " his mother said.
"This resulted in us spending considerable effort in pursuing other possibilities, so we chased our tails a little bit."
In fact, the equipment was found with MacPherson when the body was found.
"It's unfortunate that it took so long to discover that he had an accident, but now we know for sure and now we can deal with the emotional part of it all," Lynda MacPherson said.
"If they had said in 1989 that, 'We don't know what happened, but he did not return his snowboard and boots and his car is in our parking lot,' I think we could have put two and two together and we could have been dealing with this pain 14 years ago."
MacPherson said she feels "angry and resentful," but "at least now we have the answer and that helps to bring closure."
On the morning of his disappearance, he took snowboarding lessons at the Stubaier resort, had lunch with an instructor and was last seen on the ski lift.
For 14 years, the MacPhersons suspected their son had fallen into a crevasse, but search crews yielded nothing.
A Canadian team of about a half-dozen canine, technical, and search and rescue specialists also participated in the search. Area businsesses banded together to raise enough money to send the team over.
Ray Unrau, one of the team members who now works with the Saskatoon fire department, remembers how they used cutting-edge technology at the time to try to retrace the missing player's last steps.
Witness statements and various clues were plugged into a computer program to come up with a list of probable places he could be. It was concluded that his body had most likely been swallowed up in the ice of the moving glacier.
Unrau said he never believed this day would come.
"I thought he would be in a glacier until the end of time," he said. "I didn't think we would ever find him.
"I'm extremely relieved for the family. I think everyone in the search team felt really emotionally attached to the parents so, for me, the first thing I felt was good for them that they have some closure."
Bill Grimmer, another searcher from New Brunswick, was shocked to hear that the body had been found.
"Our summation was that he would probably surface someday, but it could be anywhere from 50 to one million years later," Grimmer said.
"I'm happy for the family that they can finally close this."
Lynda MacPherson said no funeral plans have been made yet.
"We do want an autopsy done, because the big question for me is, 'Did he get buried alive?' You might think that it doesn't matter, but you know what? It does," she said.
"We'll bring his body home and then we'll deal with whatever we have to deal with after that."