A search in the North Shore mountains for a missing 65-year-old hiker has been suspended.
North Shore Rescue and the West Vancouver Police Department announced Sunday they had made the decision to suspend the search for 65-year-old Debbie Blair, after three days of extensive ground and air searches turned up no clues.
About 50 searchers had taken part in combing the backcountry for Blair, including teams from North Shore Rescue, Lions Bay, Coquitlam and Surrey search and rescue teams, a police dog unit from Abbotsford and RCMP helicopter.
“It really is a very tough decision,” said Mike Danks, team leader for North Shore Rescue.
Const. Jeff Palmer, spokesman for the West Vancouver police, described the decision to end the search as “sad news.
“We never want to have to say we need to suspend a search.”
Both Danks and Palmer said the decision was made after search teams had combed all areas that could be effectively and safely searched – some of them multiple times.
“Continuing the search as it had been continued, there was no prospect of having a different result,” said Palmer.
“The weather was taking a bit of a turn. … It was pretty close to freezing,” he added. “It would have been quite miserable weather up there.”
Members of Blair’s family, including a sister who lives in Alberta, were to meet with police and North Shore Rescue Monday.
Searchers were out Thursday, Friday and Saturday, scouring the North Shore backcountry for signs of 65-year-old Blair, who went missing from a hike in Cypress Provincial Park Thursday.
Blair had been hiking the Baden Powell Trail on Thursday with a group from Vancouver’s Carnegie Community Centre, heading to the Eagle Bluffs area, when she began falling behind and got separated from the group.
When the rest of the hikers reached Eagle Bluffs, they discovered she was missing. When the group couldn’t find any sign of her on the hike back to the parking lot, they called police.
An extensive ground search was launched Thursday afternoon and continued through to Saturday. An RCMP tracking dog had also been brought in to help the search.
An air search team also flew over gullies in the area with a heat-detecting infrared camera.
On two occasions, searches found what they thought might be tracks – one set leading down a steep area in the Donut Rock Trail area and another a day later in the Dick Creek area. Searchers concentrated their efforts on those two areas.
But all of the searches failed to turn up any sign of Blair.
Although Blair is described as an experienced hiker in good physical shape, North Shore Rescue team leader Mike Danks said she had no cellphone, is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and was unprepared to spend cold nights in the backcountry. Blair left her jacket and lunch behind and was dressed only in light clothing.
“We had some pretty severe conditions,” said Danks. “Your chances of survival are pretty low.”
Danks urged anyone who was hiking in the park Thursday and may have seen Blair to let them know by calling West Vancouver police at 604-925-7300.
“We’re throwing this back to the public,” said Danks. “Any tip will help.”
Danks said if any credible tip comes in that points to where Blair might be, the search can be launched again.
Blair is described as slim, about five-foot-four and 130 pounds with brown/grey hair. She was wearing white pants when she was last seen.
Friend Bhak Jolicoeur, who was Blair’s roommate for a year, described Blair as coming across as “a real tough-as-nails kind of woman” who had a warm heart and was active in the arts community.
“She had her heart in the right place,” he said. “She had a zest for life. You don’t see it in so many people.”
Jolicoeur said he’s still hoping that “maybe by some miraculous means” Blair may still be found alive, but admitted that given the conditions on the mountain, that is growing increasingly difficult. “It’s a heartbreaker,” he said.
This story has been updated since its first posting.