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Korean man’s body discovered in backcountry

Lost snowboarder was gone 22 hours before he was reported missing

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By the time searchers got the call regarding a missing snowboarder on Thursday, Jan. 13 at 11 a.m., it had been 22 hours since anyone had seen Kim Jae Dong, a 25-year-old Korean.

His frozen body was found Saturday, Jan. 15.

Jae Dong was last seen at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler at about 1 p.m. Jan. 12. He had just informed his friends that he was going to the peak of Whistler.

After receiving the call the next day Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol, the RCMP Police Dog Service, and Whistler Search and Rescue initiated a search in temperatures of —14 Celsius and colder. Others joined the search as more clues were discovered.

At approximately 2 p.m. Jan. 13 after a ground and aerial search, the RCMP air services spotted a snowboard near a hole in the ice on Cheakamus Lake. There were also footprints visible on the ice leading to a second hole.

Darkness prevented an immediate underwater search, but a RCMP Underwater Recovery Team and the local B.C. coroner conducted a search of the lake on Friday, Jan. 14 while RCMP Police Dog Services and Search and Rescue continued their ground search through the day.

Searchers finally discovered the man’s frozen body along the Cheakamus River at approximately noon on Saturday, Jan. 15.

The Korean Consulate General was informed the moment that the man was reported missing, and helped the RCMP to contact the victim’s next of kin.

According to the Korean Consulate General, the man’s mother, father and uncle arrived in Canada on Monday. They held a service on Tuesday with Jae Dong’s friends, and the body was cremated for transport back to Korea. The family returned to Korea on Wednesday.

According to the Consulate, Kim Jae Dong was living in Vancouver taking English courses, and liked to travel up to Whistler, where he had a pass, to go snowboarding.

An autopsy was carried out to determine the exact cause of death, but the report is still pending.

According to Whistler Search and Rescue manager Brad Sills, search teams have a general idea of what happened. It appears that the man snowboarded under the ropes into the Cheakamus Lake area and became lost. He attempted to walk across the lake, which seldom freezes, and broke through the thin ice twice before heading towards the Cheakamus River.

He then either stepped into or fell into the river, which carried him a kilometre downstream to the spot he was eventually located.

"It was the behaviour of a hypothermic person," said Sills. "The air temperature was —18 and the water temperature was plus two, the water being warmer than the air."

Because of the low temperatures, it was impossible for the man to sit in one place and wait for the searchers, he had to keep moving to stay warm.

"It’s likely he was deceased in the hours before he was even reported missing," said Sills.

According to Sills, the incident drives home the importance of always being prepared with the proper gear and proper knowledge before heading into the backcountry, and that means carrying a pack with spare clothes, food, water, and basics like a whistle, map, compass and light. Communication devices like radios and cell phones are also crucial.

More importantly, you should always know where you’re going and how and when you’re getting back so your friends can report you missing in a timely way.

"Noting a man has given up his life, this drives home what we’ve being trying to impress on the public for a long time. The backcountry is a wonderful place but you have to be prepared and have the proper knowledge," said Sills. "This man was travelling alone, without a friend, he did not have a good sense of direction as to where he was going, he crossed through the boundary signs, and he went without the specific knowledge or gear to enter the backcountry."

Sills thanked everyone involved in the search, including Search and Rescue members, RCMP helicopters, dog teams, dive teams and swiftwater rescue teams, and Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Patrol and Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) teams.

The incident happened the same day that the Whistler/Pemberton RCMP received a report from Whistler-Blackcomb Guest Relations regarding two skiers lost on the mountain, a 44 year old from Whistler and a 53 year old from Shoreline, Washington.

They had skied out of bounds along Highway 86 into the Khyber Pass area, and became lost. When they realized they were lost, they used their cell phone to contact Whistler-Blackcomb Guest Relations, which notified the RCMP.

Before their cell phone battery died, they were able to tell Whistler-Blackcomb where they were, to the southwest of Khyber Pass.

Because it was too dark to mount an effective search, crews waited until the following morning. They were located by a ground search at approximately 10 a.m. on Jan. 13, and were transported to the Whistler Health Care Centre where they were treated for minor frostbite and released.

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