Thursday, August 26, 2004

Sam Black, lost near Whistler, has been found

Yesterday I received an email inquiry from the family of Sam Black, a Montreal native lost in Brandywine Falls Provincial Park south of Whistler BC. They wrote because they'd come across Brian's web page, and they asked if I could share some advice.

I passed on what I recall from our experiences. Primarily I emphasized the value of helicopter searches, and the importance, and difficulty, of narrowing the search domain.

This evening I received wonderful news. A break in the weather allowed more effective searching and Sam has been found. There are no further details at the moment.

The Whistler Question, which was very helpful when Brian was lost, had an article on Sam. The similarities to Brian are remarkable. I suspect the two would have gotten along quite well.

Many congratulations to Search and Rescue for a successful mission!
Welcome to the Whistler Question!: "Low clouds hinder hunt for SFU professor reported missing on Sunday. Wet weather and low clouds this week have hampered the search for a hiker who has been missing since Sunday in the area around Brandywine Falls Provincial Park.

Crews from Whistler, Pemberton and Coquitlam Search and Rescue (SAR) have turned up no clues in the search for Samuel Black, 39, of Vancouver. Ted Pryce-Jones, secretary for Whistler SAR, said searchers had a brief break in the weather on Wednesday afternoon and were able to get search helicopters in the air. “We got up briefly and the weather slammed us down, quickly,” Pryce-Jones said. “We were hoping to get up in the air for a much longer time but then the clouds rolled in in that area.”

Black’s friends contacted authorities Sunday afternoon after he failed to return from a solo, overnight hiking trip. “We started the search on Sunday and looked at basic areas where friends thought he was going. The weather crapped out on us Monday so we were restricted to a ground search,” Pryce-Jones said. “The weather has been a limiting factor in our search efforts and we are hoping for a break to get helicopters in the air.”

According to Pryce-Jones, Black is an experienced hiker and recently returned from a backpacking trip in Banff. Black is described as being approximately 6 feet tall with a medium build, brown eyes with glasses. Witnesses said he was wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and a yellow/gray jacket. He was also carrying a backpack, sleeping bag and a small grey/silver/green tent. After an investigating Black’s truck, which was parked at the Brandywine Meadows parking lot, Pryce-Jones said it looked as though Black left with a few cans of tuna, water and a granola bar. “He is not a climber as such but likes to do a bit of scrambling. Friends say he always leaves prepared and only intended to be up that night and day,” Pyrce-Jones said. Rescuers speculated that Black experienced a broken ankle and has not been able to travel quickly as a result. Pryce-Jones said friends describe Black as the type of hiker who would likely hunker down and wait out bad weather rather than panicking. “He seems like a level-headed guy who knows his way around the woods. If he were otherwise, it would change the way we search,” Pryce-Jones said.

“Unfortunately he didn’t take a cell phone with him because he doesn’t own one. A phone call has helped many of our searches.” Aside from being an avid hiker, Black is an assistant philosophy professor at Simon Fraser University. According to his on-line biography, Black has his Ph.D from Cambridge University in England and has an attachment to philosophy. The last sentence of his bio reads, “I’m a great devotee of several local Asian restaurants, and regularly go walking in the mountains.” As of Tuesday, five rescue teams were searching Black’s intended path in the Brandywine Mountain, Mettledome Mountain, Mount Fee and Callaghan areas.

His truck continues to sit at the Brandywine Meadows trailhead and police are seeking assistance of anyone whom may have encountered Black. “We have been cutting all the trails with the assumption he may have taken the wrong route and came down another way. The bad weather keeps crews from accessing the top so we have been sticking to drainages,” Pryce-Jones said. Crews are searching a 150-square-kilometre area, combing the woods slowly without support from the air because of the low cloud cover. On Tuesday, Pryce-Jones said 75 per cent of the area had been surveyed at least once. Organizers were hoping for a break in the wet weather so they could get helicopters in the air.

Fortunately for Black, higher alpine areas have not dipped below the freezing mark despite the cool, damp weather. “In the mountains, our most effective way to search is by helicopter,” said Pyrce-Jones. “We fly with GPS units that send out a signal every 15 seconds which is translated to maps later.”

Although SAR crews are optimistic, the RCMP normally determines the length of the search. If the search continues, Pyrce-Jones expects search and rescue workers from other areas to be called in. Pryce-Jones said crews will continue to check off areas they’ve searched thoroughly to help them determine where he might be. “The area he was intending to go has a well-marked trail head but in the summer there is no standardized marking. He seems like a responsible guy and had map and compass experience,” Pyrce-Jones said. Any information regarding Black is to be directed to Whistler RCMP.

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