Mark Salesse: RCAF avalanche victim's body recovered

The body of an RCAF member, missing since an avalanche, has been located in Banff National Park, his mother tells CBC News.

Search and rescue technician from 17 Wing in Winnipeg was swept away by snow on Feb. 5

The body of Sgt. Mark Salesse, the RCAF member who was swept away by an avalanche a week ago, was recovered in Banff National Park. (Submitted by Liz Quinn)

The body of an RCAF member, missing for almost a week after being caught in an avalanche, has been located in Banff National Park, his mother tells CBC News.

The family of Sgt. Mark Salesse, 44, a native of Bathurst, N.B., were told Wednesday night that his body had been found buried beneath 2.7 metres of snow.

"The door bell rang, and the three military people were there and I thought, 'oh my god they found him, they found him,'" said Liz Quinn, Salesse's mother from her home in Moncton, N.B.

"Although we were desperately hoping and grasping at straws that we may have a glimmer of hope left, we were relieved that he was found now and not in the spring."

Liz Quinn says her son was a dedicated professional and a giant among men, but was just Mark when he came home. (Submitted by Liz Quinn)

The Royal Canadian Air Force search and rescue technician was taking part in a military training exercise with three other members of the 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron in an ice climbing area in Banff National Park known as the Polar Circus.

According to the RCMP, Parks Canada visitor safety specialists located Salesse's body around 1:30 p.m. MT on Wednesday,

Military to hold inquiry

On Thursday, officials with 17 Wing said there will be an inquiry into Salesse's death, which is standard procedure in such cases.

Commander Col. Joël Roy said the inquiry could look at numerous factors, such as the level of training that members had, the equipment used, and the conditions in the area where the exercise took place.

"We will examine all facets of the events with the objective of determining what happened and how to prevent it from happening again," he told reporters.

Roy said the inquiry could take as long as six months.

Recovery mission

Salesse was on a descent with his partner when a small avalanche was triggered and he was swept 60 metres over a cliff.

The rest of the squad were not injured.

Rescue efforts were hampered by unfavourable weather, heavy snowfall and a high avalanche risk. On Saturday, the rescue mission was declared a recovery operation.

Quinn said she has requested photos and as much information as possible from Parks Canada to help give her closure.

"I need to know," she said. "I wanted to try to figure out, to make logic out of this. What happened? Why couldn't he get out?"

Quinn said she doesn't think her son suffered.

"As much as he was dedicated and he was a professional and he was a giant among men, when Mark came home, he was just Mark," Quinn said.

"He was a Canadian boy who grew up and had a dream and followed it."

He leaves behind his mother, stepfather Robert Brady and his father, Maurice Salesse.

Harper issues statement

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued the following statement about Salesse's death:

"I was deeply saddened today to receive confirmation of the tragic death of Sgt. Mark Salesse, following an avalanche which occurred during a search and rescue training exercise in Banff National Park. 

"On behalf of all Canadians, Laureen and I extend our heartfelt condolences to Sgt. Salesse's family, friends and colleagues. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this most difficult time. 

"The Canadian Armed Forces' search and rescue technicians are some of the best trained in the world, providing on-the-scene medical aid and evacuation in some of the most hostile environments. 

"This accident is a stark reminder of the very real dangers that our brave men and women in uniform face daily to defend our country and keep Canadians safe. 

"Sgt. Salesse's service and dedication to Canada will be remembered and honoured."


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