SAR members meet with Whistler Mayor over lawsuit 

No search ever begun, stressed Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, for missing couple

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The lawsuit against a fellow search and rescue organization in B.C. has had deep impacts and lasting concerns for Whistler's local team.

That much was evident at Tuesday's informal meeting for the roughly 25 members of Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) who came out to hear from Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden — wearing her other hat as the lawyer representing Gilles Blackburn.

Blackburn initiated the first lawsuit against the SAR organization after his wife Marie Fortin died in Golden's backcountry in 2009. That suit has since been settled with Golden and District Search and Rescue (GADSAR), discontinued against Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and remains ongoing with RCMP.

"I am very constrained by what I can say," began the mayor, adding that she is limited to the facts that are in the public domain, chief among them the coroner's report detailing Blackburn and Fortin's desperate nine day attempt at survival after ducking the boundary rocks at Kicking Horse.

"Needless to say, there are lots of other facts that are not included in this report."

Of the facts that she could talk about, Wilhelm-Morden said there were several issues at play in the Blackburn case and at the heart of the matter was a problem with communication.

For one reason or another, the key players did not all get into a room together, map the SOS signs which had been reported, and debrief all the information which had been gathered up until that point, something she said "really ought to have happened."

The other point she highlighted was the defining feature of this case, which was that no search was ever initiated. Blackburn was spotted by a helicopter on the ninth day in the wilderness and rescued. By that time it was too late for his wife.

"It wasn't because of a botched search, it was because of no search," said Wilhelm-Morden.

Brad Sills said the ensuing lawsuit shook up the SAR community.

"The blanket protection I used to think I had... has been tested," he told the group.

Out of this case, however, the province has agreed to cover third-party liability insurance for all SAR groups in BC.

The litigation is now over for GASDAR — an out of court settlement this month, the details of which will likely never be known. Blackburn also discontinued his case with Kicking Horse Mountain Resort with no damages paid.

The legal action is ongoing with the RCMP. A trial date has been set for September.

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