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1998: Michel Trudeau lost in B.C. avalanche

The Story

Michel Trudeau loved nature. But on Nov. 13, 1998, it got the best of the 23-year-old son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau. Michel, on a three-day backcountry ski trip with three friends, was pushed off the trail by an avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Park, B.C. He was swept down into cold Kokanee Lake, where he is presumed drowned. His friends survived, including one who was also swept in but managed to swim to shore. The grim task ahead is to recover Michel's body, but low cloud cover is preventing a search team from getting to the remote site. An RCMP constable who notified Pierre Trudeau by phone said the former prime minister is "deeply shaken" by the accident. "He was very quiet but he asked us to go on to do what we had to do to recover the body and to keep him informed," the officer says in this CBC News report. 

Medium: Television
Program: Sunday Report
Broadcast Date: Nov. 15, 1998
Reporter: Kelly Crowe
Host: Bill Cameron
Duration: 2:51

Did You know?

• Michel Trudeau was wearing a heavy backpack, cross-country skis and cold-weather clothing when the avalanche hit the men as they traversed a steep slope above Kokanee Lake. Trudeau and Andrew Bednarz were swept into the glacier-fed waters. Bednarz managed to get to shore. Trudeau struggled in the water but did not make it.

• In December 1998 Margaret Trudeau read a touching letter to her lost son on CBC Radio's As It Happens. As Michel fought for his life in the lake, he replied to the yells of encouragement from his friends on shore, she said. "You told them your skis were off and your last words were: 'If I take off my backpack, I will sink.' And you sank ... Michel, I love you more than words can tell. Love forever and ever and ever."

• RCMP divers, who probed the lake shortly after the accident and again the following spring, found no trace of Michel Trudeau.

• Members of the Trudeau family have since said they believe the glacier is a fitting resting place for the outdoors-loving Michel. "We feel it's the most beautiful place," his mother said in January 2001. "(We) have all been up there, and we feel it's a place that is as close to heaven on earth as you could imagine, and that our son is blessed to have his grave by Kokanee glacier. There couldn't be a more heavenly place."

• In his 2014 memoir, Justin Trudeau wrote: "A few years before his death, Michel had been idly watching a TV documentary about burial rites in Asia when he stated, matter-of-factly, "When it's my turn, just leave me down at the bottom of the mountain where I lie... His comment proved prescient: divers would never find his body, and he is there to this day."

• Experts said at the time that there was no indication of imminent avalanche danger and the men, one of whom was trained in avalanche rescue, were carrying the proper safety equipment -- beacons, shovels and probes.

• Evan Manners, manager of the Canadian Avalanche Centre in Revelstoke, B.C., said that before the Trudeau death he had never heard of an avalanche pushing someone into the water who then drowned. "It's very rare," he told the National Post shortly after the accident.

• Born in 1975, Michel (known to his family as Miche) left two brothers, Sacha and Justin. He had graduated with a degree in marine biology from Dalhousie University in Halifax. The winter before the accident, he worked as a tow-lift operator in the ski resort community of Rossland, B.C., north of Nelson. Nancy Southam, a family friend, told reporters "the ineffable irony of God" was that, at the time of his death, he was training to be an avalanche rescue officer.

• Pierre Trudeau outlived his son Michel by almost two years, dying on Sept. 28, 2000.



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