Search called off for hiker missing near Gold River

Police and search-and-rescue crews are suspending a search for an experienced climber missing in the backcountry near Gold River after four days without a trace of the missing man.

Laurence Philippsen, 64, left home on June 29, leaving his family a detailed plan of his four-day, 40-kilometre climb to a mountain range in Strathcona Provincial Park that includes Mount Laing, Mount Filberg, Mount Cobb and Mount Haig-Brown.

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When he did not return home the evening of July 2, his family called Nootka Sound RCMP. A search was started the next morning, said Paul Berry, search manager with Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue.

Despite an extensive ground and air search in complex terrain by more than 100 volunteers, including canine units, no sign of Philippsen was found.

“We felt that all of the areas that could be safely covered, have been covered,” Berry said.

The search was suspended Tuesday.

Philippsen had signalling devices to request help if he needed, but he did not send a message to his family on the first night of his trip, as he had intended to do, Berry said. It has been eight days since Philippsen’s last contact with his family.

“He was never able to signal, so there is a concern that he was unresponsive from before the time the search even began,” Berry said.

Philippsen is experienced in the backcountry and was well prepared for his trip through a remote area of the provincial park with no trails and few visitors.

“There is no way any of us could fault Laurence for his preparation, his skill. He was well planned, well equipped,” Berry said. “When you’re in the backcountry, things can go wrong. Just one step the wrong way can create a tragic situation.”

Berry said search-and-rescue recommends travelling in the backcountry with at least one other person of equal skill, training and fitness, because a partner can call for help in an emergency.

Anyone in the area is asked to keep an eye out for Philippsen, who is white, five-foot-six and 160 pounds. He has short grey/silver hair, wears glasses and has a large scar on his back from a surgery. He was wearing a blue T-shirt, blue fleece sweater and beige hiking pants and was carrying a large beige hiking pack. He has a red tent for shelter.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Katie DeRosa

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