In Depth

Neptali De Rama's friend urged rescuers to hurry before snowboarder found dead

A snowboarder who was the last to see Neptali De Rama alive says she desperately urged officials to rescue him before dark, but the 40-year-old was found dead the next day at the bottom of an out-of-bounds cliff.

Cypress Mountain says protocol followed in search for father of 10-month-old girl

Neptali De Rama, shown here holding his ten-month-old daughter, is described by friends as gentle and generous. He was the sole earner for his family. (GoFundMe)

A snowboarder who was the last person to see Neptali De Rama alive last Friday says she desperately urged officials to rescue him before dark.

The 40-year-old was found dead the next day at the bottom of an out-of-bounds cliff.

​"It was five minutes after one o'clock. We were in a very dangerous area," said Alice Xue of the last time she saw De Rama alive.

Cypress Mountain says it's their protocol to search the ski resortbefore they call police, who then initiate search and rescue operations if a person is confirmed to be missing.

"The timelime was consistent with our protocol," said Joffrey Koeman, Cypress Mountain's director of sales and marketing of its response to Xue's report.

Neptali De Rama, in red, at his last known location on Cypress Bowl (Alice Xue)

"I'd like people to know what the true timeline is," said Xue, angry a news release said she didn't report De Rama missing until six o'clock, when she went to Cypress staff at 3:15 p.m. PT.

'I thought something bad happened'

Xue claims Cypress Mountain wasted daylight, taking too long to begin looking for De Rama, an avid snowboarder she'd only met once before.

She says she ran into him on the chairlift Friday before they both accidentally ended up on a treacherous slope on Mount Strachan.

"I decided to hike up and he decided to ski down," said Xue, who snapped a picture of De Rama before she began a 75 minute grueling climb up the mountain.

In the photo, De Rama was resting just metres away from a danger sign warning, "extremely hazardous terrain ... turn back now."

Neptali De Rama and his ten-month-old daughter, Emily. (GoFundMe)

Xue started to worry when he failed to meet her by 2:30 p.m.

"I checked the lift chair again, and he didn't show up, and I thought something bad happened," said Xue who noticed his vehicle was still in the parking lot.

Offer to lead rescuers to snowboarder declined

"At three o'clock, I had a really bad feeling," said Xue who offered to lead officials to his last location.

"I said I can grab my board and show you guys exactly where it is ..." 

"They said, 'Don't worry. Don't put yourself in danger. Our guys are on their way.'"

Xue says she left a note on De Rama's windshield and decided to return to the Cypress office a second time, upset staff didn't ask for her photo showing his location.

She emailed the photo and says she was assured again they would find him before dark.

Xue says she learned of his death the next day on the news and was upset to discover North Shore Rescue did not arrive on scene for nearly four hours after she volunteered to lead officials to De Rama's last location.

20 volunteers search for De Rama

20 North Shore Search and Rescue Volunteers spent hours trying to locate the missing snowboarder, Jan 29, 2016 (Ryan Stelting)

"This is really hard on everyone involved ... We had guys out there for over 12 hours thrashing through really dangerous terrain," said Mike Danks, team leader for NSR.

Danks says Cypress officials have to make sure a missing person is truly missing before his volunteers enter the out-of-bounds area.

"They check the restaurant bar, all of the runs. They check the washrooms. They also had a patroller who recognized where on that image he potentially was," said Danks.

A ski patrol member was dispatched very quickly to search the ski boundaries, said Koeman, but the tracks he followed turned out to be Xue's, not De Rama's.

"We get one of these a day, a missing person and 99 per cent are found on site," said Koeman.

North Shore team leader Mike Danks says a one or two hour difference in notification would not have made a difference. (CBC)

Koeman says Cypress staff acted immediately after Xue first reported De Rama was in trouble, and they called police at 5:42 p.m. PT, after making sure he wasn't on the ski hill. 

He says call logs show they alerted NSR to begin calling in volunteer rescue personnel at the same time.

"She did the right thing. She turned around, and I don't know why this guy didn't," said Koeman of De Rama's decision to snowboard past a warning sign.

Faster rescue would not have made a difference

"I can say with confidence, a one or two hour delay in us getting contacted did not make a difference in this case," said Danks of a search that involved 20 volunteers and an RCMP helicopter.

Rescuers reported finding tracks leading off a steep cliff late Friday. De Rama's body was recovered below the next day.

Neptali De Rama holds his daughter. (GoFundMe)

"It's really sad that it takes an incident like this to get the message out ... It's just not worth going out of bounds."

Friends raise money for daughter

"He lost his life pursing his passion," wrote friend Dennis Garcia on Cypress Mountain's Facebook page. 

Garcia started a GoFundMe campaign for De Rama's 10-month-old daughter.

"It breaks our hearts to know that she will grow up without witnessing his devotion, amazing sense of humour and most importantly, his love," wrote Garcia, who described de Rama as an "avid snowboarder ... accomplished martial artist and mechanic," who was the family's sole provider.

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