‘Tom saved a life’: U.K. man’s death on B.C. mountain leaves rescue legacy

Click to play video: 'Donation from family of missing tourist will help save others on North Shore'
Donation from family of missing tourist will help save others on North Shore
A donation made by a British family who lost their son on the North Shore Mountains is helping to save others. As Travis Prasad reports, the donation to North Shore Rescue has helped others from meeting the same fate as their son – Mar 8, 2024

The family of a British tourist who died on the North Shore Mountains more than a decade ago says they’re proud their son’s legacy is helping to prevent similar tragedies.

“It’s the best possible outcome from the situation that we had,” Martin Billings told Global News. “We would prefer that (my son) Tom had never got into the situation he did and that he hadn’t died in that place. But we can’t change that, so the ability to contribute towards the possibility of positives happening is fantastic.”

Click to play video: 'Remains of British tourist found in North Shore identified'
Remains of British tourist found in North Shore identified

Tom Billings vanished while hiking in November 2013, kicking off a massive search effort. In 2016, the 22-year-old’s remains were finally located on Cypress Mountain.

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To honour both their son and the work of the volunteers who poured more than 2,000 hours into the search for him, the Billings family later donated the funds to build a helipad and emergency cache on the mountain.

The site is located in a gully just above a 60-metre (200-foot) cliff on Montizambert Creek, and is equipped with a motion-sensor camera.

On Wednesday, that camera clicked into action when it detected an out-of-bounds skier and alerted North Shore Rescue.

“He almost went down over the waterfall, was in the gully, and saw some of our signs strung up across the gully and the creek that said stop and climb up,” North Shore Rescue air operations coordinator John Blown told Global News on Wednesday. “Had he gone down probably another 30 feet, he would have been over a 200-foot cliff and that would have been it.”

This is the second life potentially saved by the helipad cache.

One year prior, to the day, an out-of-bounds snowboarder was in trouble in the same location, before NSR was able to mount a rescue.

Click to play video: 'Snow melt prompts new search for 22-year-old tourist'
Snow melt prompts new search for 22-year-old tourist

Billings said he was greatly pleased when NSR recognized his son’s contribution to that prior successful rescue.

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“The comment that was made that has stuck with me was Tom saved a life, and that is I think a very wonderful thing that some good has come out of that,” he told Global News. “Every time that happens again it’s equally wonderful.”

Anyone who finds themselves at the Montizambert cache will come face to face with a smiling photo of Tom Billings, along with his name.

His father believes that photo may be more effective than the numerous official warning signs in the area aimed at wayward backcountry adventurers.

Click to play video: 'Lifesaving equipment stolen from Nanaimo Search and Rescue'
Lifesaving equipment stolen from Nanaimo Search and Rescue

“It means a great deal … it’s a special place, and full of strong emotions for me, I am glad that Tom’s picture is there,” Billings said. “I think it actually serves a function, as well as being in the nature of a memorial, inasmuch as it very much humanizes the notices that are there … there is a story there, it tends to grab people’s attention more than just signs.”

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While Billings is proud of his son’s contribution to saving lives on the mountain, he said he remains indebted to the people who “really do the work,” North Shore REscue.

“They are the people who are saving people and I am glad to have been able to meet a lot of people from NSR over the years and become friends with them,” he said. “The idea of a team of people giving up their time and putting themselves in the way of harm in order to help other people is a wonderful thing.”

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