Persistent search and rescue volunteers appear to have solved the mystery of what happened to Warren Sill, an aspiring American filmmaker who vanished in the British Columbia wilderness in July.
Mr. Sill, a 26-year-old computer engineer whose dream was to make wildlife documentaries, was on a solo trek near Terrace when he disappeared last July.
Despite an intensive air and ground search throughout much of July, no sign of Mr. Sill was found after his car was located in a parking lot at the head of the Whiskey Creek Trail.
On the weekend, the RCMP in New Hazelton released a statement saying a body, thought to be the remains of Mr. Sill, had been found near a waterfall in the Gull Creek area.
"It is very highly likely that is who that is, but we are still in the process of determining a positive identification," Donita Kuzma, the regional coroner, said Monday.
RCMP Constable Lesley Smith said the find had been made because the Terrace Search and Rescue team continued looking for Mr. Sill long after the official search had ended. She said the crew held training exercises in the area where Mr. Sill vanished, and just kept looking for him while developing their search and rescue skills.
"It was a great idea to be training as well as going to those areas they couldn't get to before," she said.
Dwayne Sheppard, president of Terrace Search and Rescue, said a narrow canyon slot was always seen as a possible place where Mr. Sill could have fallen, but during the summer, water levels were too high to safely get down to the creek bed.
"Once a search closes, it is closed, but we can go back on training exercises, so that's what we did," he said.
Mr. Sheppard said teams made six trips to Whiskey Creek, where they searched the canyon. On Nov. 10, they found a T-shirt.
"We knew we were close," he said. An Internet search turned up a picture of Mr. Sill wearing a T-shirt with the same logo. Then, in a subsequent training exercise, they found the remains.
Mr. Sheppard said it may not be possible to determine what happened, but the trail crosses Whiskey Creek upstream from where the remains were found, and it is possible Mr. Sill was swept away while trying to wade the stream.
"At the time it was a raging creek," said Whitney Numan, of Smithers Search and Rescue, the group that led the search effort in July. He said said the canyon wasn't thoroughly searched last July because it wouldn't have been safe to go into it with the water so high. "There's a fairly good-sized creek that narrows down into basically vertical canyon walls and multiple waterfalls. It's extremely dangerous to put anyone in that area."
He said with cold weather, the water level in the canyon dropped, allowing the Terrace search team to safely get into areas no one could reach before.
Mr. Numan said the search for Mr. Sill last July drew volunteers from all over the province, and everyone involved with the case is relieved Mr. Sill's remains now appear to have been found. "For us and for the family it's important to have closure," he said. "We are very thankful that Terrace went the extra distance as part of their training to do this because it brings closure, first of all, to the family, but also for everybody else involved in the search."
Mr. Sill drove to Terrace last summer from his home in Ohio, on a quest to get some images of Spirit bears, the rare white-phase black bears which are known to be in the area. Police said he was not experienced in the outdoors, and had left his camping equipment behind in his car.
But his family, in a statement issued after the official search for him was called off at the end of July, said he had tried to get ready for his expedition.
"Warren was passionate about wildlife, especially the elusive Kermode bear. He studied and prepared for several months to learn survival skills, and devoured countless books on animal behaviour," they wrote.
"Fear did not stand in the way of his dream," his family stated. "Though he was a very young man, we are comforted by the fact that he experienced the richness of the wilderness of Canada while pursuing his goals."
The family members said they were "deeply saddened by the loss of Warren" and thanked all those who had tried to find him.
"We can never repay our debt to the men and women who searched so tirelessly for him," they wrote at the time. "Yet, we plan on spending our lives paying it forward."