Jasper National Park’s search and rescue unit helped recover the body of a missing Calgary man November 14, helping bring closure to a distressed family.
“The fact that they found him, we can actually have closure,” family member Dominique Gregoire told the Calgary Herald November 15. Finance executive Michael Gardner had been missing since October 29. Searchers recovered his body near Bow Lake, in Banff National Park. Jasper dog master Darian Sillence and his seven-year-old German Shepherd made the discovery.
“It was definitely a good find in the sense that some weather was coming in,” said Jasper visitor safety specialist Steve Blake. Deep snow would hamper search efforts, Blake said.
The successful search helped rule out any foul play, but it also highlighted the importance of cross-agency collaboration between Parks Canada and RCMP.
Moreover, the incident bookended the type of cases that Parks Canada and RCMP officials are sometimes required to investigate.
Every year, particularly in the summer, Be On the Lookout For (BOLF) alerts come across the desks of visitor safety personnel. Jasper Local readers will remember the case of Michael Montgomery, who, after telling his family in Ontario that he planned to live in the woods, remained just out of reach of investigators. Personal effects and remnants of illegal campfires placed Montgomery near the Jasper townsite in the spring, but the 29-year-old evaded searchers’ efforts all summer. Officials now believe he’s moved on.
BOLF cases test not only the search capabilities of the ground team members, but also the profiling expertise of search managers. Before a ground team is deployed, investigators will attempt to gain a sense of who they are looking for. To do that, officials will categorize the victim; a climber, a biker, a skier and a hiker all behave in different ways, Blake said. Further profiling is done by inputting a subject’s age and mental status.
“People who are despondent behave in certain ways,” he added.
Overlaying the victim’s profile over an extensive database of rescue incidents, and extrapolating the information to the terrain in front of them, search managers can start to narrow down where a victim might be.
At Bow Lake, the team used the results of a police investigation to determine the victim’s profile, and thereby the highest probability area in which to search.
“He met the hiker profile in terms of gear and general activities,” Blake said.
When it was Sillence’s time to move, he let Starsky’s years of intensive training do its work. As the handler, Sillence guides the animal using the information the search managers provide him.
“The time-lag [between when the victim was last seen and the time of search] and environmental conditions are what I’m looking for,” he said.
Closing the file on the Gardner case is bittersweet, said Sillence. While the team was pleased that Starsky was able to track the scent to the missing person’s final place of rest, he doesn’t revel in the victory any longer than it takes to reward the dog.
“I was proud the dog did its job but in some respects it is what it is. This is someone who’s taken their life,” Sillence said.