One of the enduring missing persons cases of hikers lost in the North Shore mountains has been solved.
The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed Friday the remains of Tom Billings, the British tourist who triggered a massive manhunt in December 2013, have been found.
According to the coroner, a hiker found the 22-year-old’s body on April 11 on Hollyburn Mountain. The coroner confirmed Billings’ ID through DNA testing and made the announcement Friday morning.
“It’s just such a sense of relief that finally this family will have some closure and they’ll be able to move forward,” said Mike Danks, North Shore Rescue team leader.
The team spent weeks searching for Billings in December 2013, mostly in the Hanes Valley where Billings had inquired about hiking when he was last seen.
Billings was a seasoned traveller and avid hiker who had been spending eight weeks travelling in North America. No one knew he was missing until he failed to complete his travel plans a week later and the search didn’t begin until 10 days after Billings disappeared, something Danks said underscores the need to make sure someone knows where you’re hiking and when to expect you back. “Ten days is a long time to be in the backcountry on the North Shore. During that period we had some very, very cold weather and some fresh snow that had accumulated,” he said.
North Shore Rescue put in more than 5,000 volunteer hours, searching trails and gullies across the North Shore. Billings’ family hired a helicopter to record video footage of the mountains, which was then scoured by amateur searchers online in a bid to crowdsource leads.
“It was a massive, massive effort,” Danks said.
That was, in part, because of the commitment that late North Shore Rescue team leader Tim Jones made to the Billings family. It was also the last major search Jones was a part of before he died in January 2014.
“We stayed in very close contact with them since Tom was reported missing. It started out with Tim establishing a strong connection with them. They went through the loss of Tim. They came over here many times to show support to us and to Tim’s family,” Danks said.
Vancouver Police Department members spoke with Billings’ family for two hours on Thursday night. The family issued a statement through the VPD Friday morning.
“The family wants to thank the general public for the support and assistance in the search to find their son Tom over the last two and a half years. The family specifically wishes to express their deepest appreciation to the members of the North Shore Search and Rescue team and the helicopter pilots of Talon Aviation, the staff and members of the British consulate in Vancouver for all their continued support, and finally to the VPD in general and the missing persons unit in particular for their continued and persistent work to find their son Tom,” it read.
North Shore Rescue is still committed to finding Neville Jewell, the 52-year-old White Rock man who disappeared on the Howe Sound Crest Trail in September 2015.