Rescue groups say they acted reasonably 

RCMP, Golden SAR and Kicking Horse file Statements of Defence in Blackburn lawsuit

Those involved with the search and rescue efforts for two out of bounds skiers at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort last winter, one of whom froze to death before being found, deny any wrongdoing in court documents filed recently in Vancouver.

Last February Gilles Blackburn, 51, and wife Marie Josee Fortin, 44, skied out of bounds at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (KHMR) and were lost for nine days. On the seventh day of the incident Fortin died of hypothermia. During that time they stamped SOS signals in the snow, which were seen by a employees of a helicopter company.

According to the RCMP and the KHMR Statements of Defence, the SOS signs were known to KHMR and the Golden and District Search and Rescue Association from Feb. 17. KMHR claims it carried out its missing persons protocols and all guests were accounted for.

The RCMP was not notified until Feb. 21.

Blackburn is suing the RCMP, KMHR and Golden Search and Rescue Association in the death of Fortin. Their two sons are also seeking compensation through the courts.

In Statements of Defence filed recently all defendants claim they acted reasonably and were not negligent.

The defendants also claim that Fortin and Blackburn contributed to their own misfortune by going out of bounds without being prepared and by failing to notify anyone of where they were going. At one point, states the RCMP document, the couple were within walking distance of a cabin to take shelter in.

KHMR also claims in its statement that it is protected by the terms and conditions of the exclusion of liability set forth on the tickets sold to Blackburn and Fortin on Feb.15 and on signs posted at the ticket office and other locations in the ski area.

According to the Statement of Defence of the Attorney General of Canada and the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General of British Columbia, the RCMP's decision not to initiate a search on Feb. 21, 2009 was reasonable given the information they had at the time.

"These Defendants specifically deny that Fortin died as a result of any omissions by these Defendants or the RCMP..." said the Statement of Defence, filed July 20.

According to the statement, on Feb. 21 backcountry operator Purcell Helicopters called 911 to report that they had seen tracks and SOS signs in the Grizzly Cover and Canyon Creek areas adjacent to the KHMR. They believed the tracks looked a few days old.

That same day the RCMP contacted the Golden Search and Rescue about the tracks and the SAR member said they had already checked and no skiers were missing from the resort.

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