Mother of ice climber who perished in avalanche marks sombre anniversary

CALGARY - The journey of a grieving mother whose son, a Canadian Forces search-and-rescue technician, was buried in a powerful avalanche a year ago has come full circle.

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Liz Quinn, of Moncton, N.B., along with friends and family members, will take a helicopter flight over the Polar Circus ice-climbing route in Banff National Park on Friday to mark the anniversary of the death of Sgt. Mark Salesse.

Salesse, 44, was training with others when an avalanche swept him off a narrow ledge, burying him beneath 4 1/2 metres of snow. His body was recovered a week later.

"I wanted to see where Mark fell," Quinn said in an interview with The Canadian Press when she arrived in Calgary late Wednesday. "I wanted to see where he spent his last few days."

She choked back tears as she explained how much he loved the mountains and his career.

"It might sound crazy but I feel he's there in the Rockies," she said. "I feel that Mark is pulling us here. It's going to close that circle."

Salesse wasn't wearing an avalanche transceiver, a device that allows rescuers to hone in on a signal and locate buried victims.

Colleagues say the New Brunswick native, who was based at CFB Winnipeg, was the strongest climber on his squadron of more than 200 SAR Techs.

Quinn said her son joined the military when he was 18 and turned down a mission to Afghanistan when the search-and-rescue opportunity came along.

"Mark was a tall guy. He never wanted to say he was over six foot five but he was a kid at heart. He was gentle and he was thoughtful," she recalled.

"He lived his life and he treated people the way he wanted to be treated."

Quinn proudly showed off a locket containing a smiling photo of her son on one side and a picture of him with several friends from Winnipeg.

There will be friends and family members remembering him in Banff, including Eric Boivin, an ex-SAR Tech and Salesse's climbing partner at the time of accident.

The Royal Canadian Air Force is conducting an official inquiry into his death to determine how it happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

The report and recommendations are expected within the next few weeks.

Quinn said she has been proud to talk about her son and wants Canadians to know what a SAR Tech does.

"People know that soldiers go to Afghanistan, they know they have gone to Rwanda, but there are soldiers in Canada that people don't know about," she said. "If doing this puts Canadian SAR Techs on the map and in people's minds, then Mark did not die for nothing."

Quinn doesn't expect to make the journey to the Rockies again.

"No, but I will remember him every year. I remember him all the time."


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