TORONTO — A Toronto firefighter who was the subject of an extensive six-day search at a New York ski centre has been found safe in California, leaving officials puzzled as to how the 49-year-old managed to get across the country.
Constantinos (Danny) Filippidis was reported missing Feb. 7 at Whiteface Mountain during an annual ski trip with colleagues. Officials say more than 140 people spent a combined 7,000 hours searching the rugged mountain terrain, calling in helicopters and search dogs to assist.
The multi-agency search included members of the U.S. Department of Environmental Conservation, New York state police, Homeland Security, U.S. boarder officials and volunteer Toronto firefighters.
The search was called off Tuesday afternoon when Filippidis was located near Sacramento, Calif.
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said the service was relieved to know Filippidis was safe, and in the care of police in Sacramento.
Filippidis has been taken to hospital as he appeared to be "confused and was unable to give direct answers," Frank Ramagnano, president of the Toronto Professional Firefighters' Association, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday evening.
"He had phoned (his wife) and called her by a nickname, she quickly recognized the voice and that it was him," Ramagnano said. "Then they lost contact and he contacted her again and they kept him on the phone and asked him to call 911 to get him help as soon as possible."
Filippidis was alone when he was found and was still wearing the clothing he had been skiing in when he went missing, Ramagnano said, adding that he didn't know if Filippidis has a history of mental illness.
"We understand that there will be speculation and many questions at this time, however, please appreciate that authorities will be conducting a full and thorough investigation into what transpired," Ramagnano said.
He said Filippidis was last seen by one of his colleagues on the ski hill at about 2:30 p.m. last Wednesday.
"The person who was skiing with him was feeling fatigued, he wanted to take a rest, he didn't want to ski anymore," Ramagnano said. "Danny stayed because he wanted to do one more run."
He added that American authorities were in possession of the man's passport, so it was unlikely he flew to California.
Filippidis remains in hospital and his family and colleagues are relieved he was found alive, Ramagnano said.
"We were quite concerned, and I had discussions with some of our peer support people on exactly what we could do for our members who were skiing with him," Ramagnano said. "You could imagine the guilt they would have if this turned out to be a tragic event."
— With files from Michelle McQuigge.
Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press