GOLDEN, British Columbia - Police should have acted at once when they learned an SOS was marked on a snowy Canadian mountainside where two skiers were lost, a spokesman said Thursday.
Instead, police waited three more days, until a helicopter skiing company pilot saw a man waving his arms near another SOS, which was a mistake in judgment, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said.
"There's an error on the part of the RCMP for not initiating a call-out on Feb. 21," he told a news conference.
By the time rescuers found Gilles Blackburn, 51, of Montreal, near the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, British Columbia, three days later, his wife, Marie-Josee Fortin, 44, had died, police said.
Blackburn was treated at a hospital for frostbite and flew back to Montreal Thursday.
Moskaluk said independent investigators would examine why police didn't search when the SOS was first reported.
The couple had been on a Valentine's Day ski vacation when they got lost out of bounds Feb. 15, police said.
They had only two granola bars between them, police said.
For days they walked, leaving a trail of SOS signals behind them and camping in tree wells to escape nightly sub-zero wind chills, The Globe and Mail reported.
At one point, Blackburn fought off wolves with his skis to stay alive, Blackburn's brother Yvon told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
An off-duty ski guide discovered an SOS Feb. 17 and told his employer, Purcell Helicopter Skiing Ltd., police said.
The company contacted Kicking Horse, which determined the couple hadn't been there, Moskaluk said.
Skiers told Purcell Saturday they saw two more SOS signs. This time Purcell alerted Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But again, no search was begun, Moskaluk said.
Only Tuesday, after a Purcell helicopter pilot reported a man waving his arms near an SOS, did police respond, Moskaluk said.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police reached Blackburn an hour later.
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