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Blackburn family sues RCMP, Kicking Horse, search and rescue

No search initiated for Montreal couple; wife died in backcountry

The family of Gilles Blackburn has filed two lawsuits against the RCMP, Golden Search and Rescue and Kicking Horse Resort in connection with the February death of Blackburn's wife, Marie-Josee Fortin.

Blackburn, 51, and Fortin, 44, skied into the backcountry from Kicking Horse resort on Feb. 15 of this year and were lost for nine days before a helicopter pilot passing overhead spotted Blackburn.

Fortin died on the seventh day.

After the rescue Blackburn's brother said the couple ate leaves, melted snow and built shelters from branches. Blackburn also took the basket off a ski pole to fend off wolves.

The lawsuit contends that the RCMP, Golden Search and Rescue and Kicking Horse Resort were each notified of strange tracks and SOS markings in the snow near the ski area while the couple were lost, but no search was initiated.

RCMP admitted they made an error "in not initiating a call-out on Feb. 21."

SOS signs were noticed on Feb. 17 and again on Feb. 21. RCMP were first informed on Feb. 21. The RCMP said an internal investigation would be conducted into why a search was not initiated.

A press release from Whistler lawyer Nancy Wilhelm-Morden states: "Mr. Blackburn's ordeal is one of endurance, pain and tragic loss. It is now clear that this tragedy could have been avoided by action on the part of the defendants. In bringing these lawsuits, Mr. Blackburn wants to ensure that no one goes through something like this again."

The first suit is a claim for damages by Blackburn for the physical and psychological injuries he suffered as a result of the alleged negligence of the defendants.

In the second suit, Blackburn and his two children are seeking compensation for Fortin's death.

The Montreal couple were described by Yvon Blackburn as experienced skiers who loved going into the backcountry.