A B.C. man who went missing when a fire engulfed a hangar at the Prince George airport three years ago has been charged with sexual assault in Alberta, CBC News has learned.

RCMP in Vermilion, Alta., say Vernon Martin has been charged with sexually assaulting two people more than 30 years ago.

The charges were laid in 2010, a year after fire destroyed the Northern Thunderbird Air hangar at the Prince George airport. The day after the fire, family members reported Martin missing.

Martin co-owned the building, and his vehicle was found outside the hangar, and at the time it was widely assumed he had perished in the blaze.

But the RCMP in Prince George say they now consider Martin a missing man, and he is still wanted by Alberta RCMP for the two alleged assaults, even though he hasn't been seen or heard from since December 2009.

No remains found

After the fire at the hangar it was widely believed Martin had perished in the blaze. But investigators were forced to delay their search of the ruins until the spring thaw, because the water used to extinguish the fire had frozen solid.


The blaze, which broke out at the Prince George airport, destroyed the Northern Thunderbird Air hangar. (Sumbitted by Steven Kostamo)

But five months after the fire, forensic anthropologist Richard Lazenby and a team of students spent 10 days combing the hangar wreckage and found no trace of human remains.

That left police with a missing person case.

"It's generally considered, pretty much impossible to completely destroy a human body in a fire," explains Lazenby.

"I mean even in cremations in funerals — which burn at a very, very hot temperature — you're left, even after several hours, with large pieces of the skeleton."

Alberta RCMP investigate cold case sex crimes

Meanwhile, Alberta RCMP were investigating a 30-year-old sexual assault file; two people were assaulted between 1979 and 1982.

"The charges were indecent assault and gross indecency," said Vermilion Cpl. Gordon Yetman.


It was first believed that Vernon Martin died in a fire that destroyed this hangar at the Prince George airport in December 2009. The hangar has just finished being rebuilt.

"As a result, warrants for his arrest were issued in the first instance. And that was done basically as a public safety measure given the nature of the crimes being alleged."

The warrants for Martin's arrest were issued in November 24th and December 16th, 2010.

"It was believed that he was still in the country at the time [the warrants were issued]

," said Yetman.


With files from the CBC's Wil Fundal