Family of missing pilot takes on search in B.C. mountains as military suspends effort

The sister of a missing Alberta pilot whose plane vanished without a trace in southeast B.C. said she feels abandoned by the military which suspended its search Monday.

'Now it's in our own hands,' says sister of Dominic Neron

Dominic Neron and Ashley Bourgeault were on a small plane that went missing in the Rogers Pass area 10 days ago. (Tammy Neron)

The sister of a missing Alberta pilot whose plane vanished without a trace in southeast B.C. said she feels abandoned by the military which suspended its search Monday.

Tammy Neron believes her brother, Dominic Neron, and his girlfriend, Ashley Bourgeault, are still alive 10 days after the single-engine aircraft went down somewhere over Rogers Pass.

The family was desperate to extend the official search, but "protocol" took precedence, she said Tuesday. 

"We've been fighting really hard and it's devastating to know that search-and-rescue is done their search now," she said.

"It's not easy for anyone to hear that someone is just willing to give up and stop looking when they're out there.

"Now it's in our own hands, which is kind of scary."

'Most heartbreaking'

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria said crews made the difficult decision to suspend the exhaustive operation as of Monday afternoon.
Neron, 28, left Penticton, B.C. with his girlfriend on a single-engine aircraft, but the small plane disappeared from radar as it travelled across the mountains. (Supplied/Tammy Neron)

Police have said the 28-year-old pilot and his 31-year-old passenger were flying from Penticton, B.C. to the Villeneuve airport northwest of Edmonton on Nov. 25 when their 1963 Mooney M20D disappeared from radar.

Neron and Bourgeault are both from the Edmonton area.

The rescue centre said Royal Canadian Air Force and Parks Canada aircraft have flown 120 hours in challenging conditions covering a search area of more than 22,000 square kilometres.

Rescue centre spokeswoman Katelyn Moores has previously said the search was narrowed to a region 18 kilometres outside Revelstoke based on information from radar and a cellphone tower that picked up a signal from the pilot's phone.

The disappearance is being officially transferred from the military to the RCMP. Police will pursue new leads in the case, but are not initiating a ground search.

"The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre has handed it over to the RCMP and I think that's the most heartbreaking part of it all," said Tammy Neron.

"They have the case, they leave it open, and if they have any leads, they will look that instant for it.
Cellphone signals from the missing plane were last picked up near Revelstoke, B.C. (Google Maps)

"However, they're not out there searching with the helicopters, they don't even put out a ground crew, they don't do anything at this point so that is really hard to hear."

Neron said the two families are organizing a grassroots search operation. Several family members have travelled to Revelstoke to organize private search parties, made up of volunteers with expertise in the rugged backcountry.  

'He's a fighter'

During the next week, two pilots who are family friends will be flying over the search area and enlisting the help of other pilots.

The family is also putting up posters around town, in the hopes that any new piece of information will trigger new leads in the case, and revive the official search.

Skilled volunteers across the community of Revelstoke have offered up their services, Tammy Neron said.

"We are just taking it day by day. We have some amazing locals that are rallying for them and working by our side and I'm forever thankful," she said.

"You have people that reach out that know this place like the back of their hand and that keeps my faith alive … we still have such an amazing team here."

Neron said she won't rest until her brother is found. Despite the passage of time, and her deepening knowledge of the rough mountainous terrain, she still has faith.

"I know Dominic. I know how he thinks, I know how intelligent he is. I know he's resourceful and always takes control of every situation.

"He's a fighter and for that reason, I'm going to fight as hard as I can for him and I can't give up.

"I'm not giving up until he's found. It's as simple as that."


Wallis Snowdon


Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

With files from Canadian Press