As It Happens

Body of missing skier found in Alps 35 years later

Mystery solved ... and closure found. A Toronto woman finally makes peace with her brother's tragic death decades after he disappeared while skiing in the Italian Alps.
Gregory Barnes, 24, went missing during a ski trip in the Italian Alps in 1980. His body was found this summer when warmer-than-normal weather melted glacial ice that had covered his body for 35 years. (Submitted)

It was hard not to wonder ... harder still to give up hope. 

Sonja Barnes knew deep down that her brother was gone. Gregory Barnes disappeared in 1980 while skiing in the Italian Alps. But his body wasn't found, so she was left to wonder. Until now.

Earlier this month, Barnes learned that her brother's remains had been found.

She spoke to As It Happens' Carol Off about the discovery,and what it means to her.

Carol Off: Sonja, how did your brother go missing all those years ago?

Sonja Barnes: He was working in Germany, and he joined a group of fellow outdoor enthusiasts to go on a skiing trip in northern Italy.The group divided into two; a group of four set off for a peak called Sella; and a group of nine were going to Bernina peak. He took off with the Bernina group but there was an issue with the binding on his ski. The person at the end of the line suggested strongly that he go back to the hut because he would not be able to make it with a broken ski. 

CO: He went back alone ...

SB: He was accompanied back to the hut, from what the reports say. He was supposed to stay there and join the other group heading to the easier peak, Sella.But it appears that he took off on his own, and tried to rejoin the group going to Bernina peak. It was a beautiful sunny April day. He could probably even see the group further up the mountain when he left the hut. However, somehow he got turned around and never made it back to the group. It appears that he veered off to the left and instead started climbing toward the Palu peak, which can be very dangerous. There are a lot of crevices in that area, and the suspicion is that he fell into one of those crevices. 

CO: Can you start to piece the story together more now that you know where the body was found?

SB: Well, there was always doubt in my mind. We went to Italy to see what we could find out from the mountaineers who had been searching for him. And they said they could usually tell when somebody had fallen into a crevice. They checked all the main crevices and they couldn't see any indication that he'd fallen into any of them. So unfortunately that gave me false hope for years. 

CO: You thought he might be alive still ... 

SB: Yes. Of course, that's kind of a foolish hope to hold onto. I let go of it many years ago, but you never let go of it completely. So this does finally bring some closure and peace. 

CO: Why have they only been able to find his body now?

SB: Sadly, it was a result of global warming. Apparently, this summer was the warmest that area of Italy has seen in 35 years. I'm assuming it was from the glaciers melting. It would have washed some of these remains further down the mountain. 

CO: Will you be able to bring his remains back to Canada for burial?

SB: Yes, it should happen within the next two weeks. His remains will be buried near my mother's home in the Muskokas. We already have a stone for him there; it's been there for years. 

CO: Are your parents alive to see him returned?

SB: No. My mother is buried there, and my father is buried in Niagara Falls where we grew up. My mother died when we were children, but my father was alive when my brother passed. It was really hard on him. I don't think he ever really recovered. 

CO: Sonja, I'm so sorry for your loss. 

SB: Thank you. 

The interview was edited for length and clarity. 


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