LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - The body of a military search-and-rescue technician who died after being buried in deep snow during a training exercise on an Alberta mountain was recovered late Wednesday.
Sgt. Mark Salesse, 44, who was based at CFB Winnipeg, was swept off the Polar Circus ice-climbing route in Banff National Park last week during an avalanche.
"It's not the news we were wanting," his mother, Liz Quinn, said in an interview from her home in Moncton, N.B.
"We still had a glimmer of hope this was all a bad dream. Maybe they would find him perched up against somewhere. But it's a relief he's going to be taken home."
Quinn said because of jurisdictional issues, Parks Canada search and rescue personnel were the ones to retrieve her son's body, though his military colleagues were on standby around the perimeter of the area in case they were needed.
"I was desperately hoping that Mark would be found in the next few days, otherwise it would have had to wait until the spring thaw."
Quinn said the wait has been gut-wrenching.
"When you go to bed at night, and you're in your comfortable bed, and you have a comforter and you have a pillow and you're protected, and you have heat in your house, you lay there and close your eyes, and picture your son buried in the snow," she said, her voice soft but unbreaking.
"I can't describe to you how it tears you apart."
Salesse had joined the military when he was 18 and turned down a mission to Afghanistan when the search-and-rescue opportunity came along. He had a very close call back in 2011, shattering his pelvis during another training fall in Colorado.
He wasn't expected to walk again but he managed to get himself back in shape.
On his last trip, it's believed he was swept off a narrow ledge when weather conditions suddenly shifted. He wasn't wearing an avalanche transceiver, a device that allows rescuers to hone in on a signal and locate buried victims. Searchers instead used dogs to try to pick up his scent.
The search for Salesse was complicated by the threat of further avalanches. Parks Canada had said that additional avalanches — both natural and ones triggered to improve safety — had fallen on the area where he is believed to have been buried a week ago.
Quinn said she wanted to express her gratitude for the support she and her family have received from both the Canadian Forces and Parks Canada.
"They spent so much time and effort to find Mark," she said.
She said funeral arrangements for her son will be made over the next few days.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement late Wednesday expressing sympathy to Salesse's friends, family and colleagues.
"The Canadian Armed Forces' search and rescue technicians are some of the best trained in the world, providing on-the-scene medical aid and evacuation in some of the most hostile environments," he said.
"This accident is a stark reminder of the very real dangers that our brave men and women in uniform face daily to defend our country and keep Canadians safe. Sgt. Salesse's service and dedication to Canada will be remembered and honoured."