Tim Jones, the leader and spokesperson for North Shore Search and Rescue, died on Sunday evening after collapsing from sudden cardiac arrest on a trail near a rescue cabin on Mount Seymour.
The 57-year-old had been a volunteer with the rescue service since 1987, while also working as an advanced life support paramedic and Paramedic in Charge for the B.C. Ambulance Service in North Vancouver.
Jones had been involved in about 2,000 rescues over the past two-and-a-half decades, including one a few weeks ago when amateur hiker Luci Cadman found herself alone and lost on Mount Seymour.
"It was a clear trail for the first couple of hours. It was getting high up. There was snow there. And then suddenly it just went dead. There were trees everywhere across the road where the trail should have been. There was no visibility of a trail at all," said Cadman.
In hindsight, Cadman says, she should have turned back. But she thought if she kept going she would eventually reach a road.
"It got pretty treacherous. I crossed a few small creeks, had a few falls, fell through a few bridges," says Cadman.
The sun began setting and the conditions were getting dangerous. Exhausted, Cadman called 9-1-1 and the dispatchers forwarded her to Jones.
"It's incredible what they did," said Cadman. "Tim, on the phone, he kept me very calm the whole time and everyone on the team, when they found me, they were so nice."
The team told her to stay put, deployed a helicopter to find her, and rescued her about four hours later.
"I was very worried that people would be mad at me, but they were very reassuring, very professional."
"I want Tim running the effort"
Professional is how Whistler Search and Rescue manager Brad Sills describes his old friend and colleague, too.
"There are a lot of words that could be used to describe Tim. Professional, of course. ... Fearless. He stood for what he believed in. Bold. Not afraid to speak his mind," says Sills.
The two men met in 1994 during a large scale search in Whistler. Even then, says Sills, Jones was a "shining star" who "rose above everybody else."
Sills says one of Jones' most extraordinary achievements was when he spearheaded the rescue of some of his team members stranded on Mount Logan in the Yukon about a decade ago.
"They were weathered out and were trapped on the top of the mountain in very, very poor shape. And he managed a rescue effort from North Vancouver that literally saved his team members' lives," said Sills.
"I often said to my members, 'If I'm ever lost or injured in the wilderness, I want Tim running the effort.'"
Tributes pour in
News of Jones's passing spread on social media Sunday night, beginning with a tweet around 10 p.m. PT by North Shore Searcj and Rescue.
The rescue service also posted the news on its Facebook page: "Seymour patrol, BCAS, RCMP, Fire and Lions Gate staff all put in a massive effort to save Tim but unfortunately he did not come through."
Today, flags at southwest B.C.'s Emergency Communications headquarters were flying at half mast.
Premier Christy Clark, who presented Jones with the Order of British Columbia in 2011, issued a statement this morning expressing her condolences.
"He dedicated the best part of his life to helping people in the worst moment of theirs."
Meanwhile, Attorney General Suzanne Anton said Jones' search and rescue system will be his lasting legacy.
"Tim Jones was the voice and face of search and rescue in British Columbia. He was a terrific practitioner and he was a terrific advocate. He will be really missed."
Jones and his work were recently featured in a documentary called To The Rescue, which premiered on CBC's Doc Zone last week.
On his LinkedIn profile page, Jones writes that he has dedicated his life to becoming a helicopter rescue coordinator — something he takes very seriously.
"Outside this, I have only one aspiration after this and that is to pay back my wife for time lost," Jones writes.
His funeral is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 25.