Hundreds of people gathered Saturday at 19 Wing Comox to honour the memory of Sgt. Mark Salesse, who died during a military training exercise Feb. 5 at Polar Circus near Banff, Alta.
The 44-year-old, Winnipeg-based Search and Rescue Technician — who had trained at 19 Wing before graduating into the SAR Tech profession in 2005 — had completed an ascent and was on his way down when an avalanche swept him off the side of a narrow cliff. A six-day search ensued but was hindered by poor weather.
Before Saturday’s service, a funeral procession of about 20 vehicles escorted the casket from the Comox Valley Funeral Home to the base. The pallbearer party included SAR Techs from various corners of Canada.
“Mark was a friend to everyone,” his mother Liz Quinn said at the service. “He was the loving threads that held the colourful quilt of friends together. And by the many gathered here today, he saw beauty in each of you, and you in him.”
The service concluded with a fly-past of a SAR aircraft and a firing volley.
Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Warden, commandant of the Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue in Comox, said Salesse was “over and above most as far as the adventurous spirit is concerned.
“He was always doing something adrenaline-wise,” said Warden, who wrote and delivered the eulogy. “If it wasn’t skydiving or hang-gliding it was scuba-diving, or, as his ultimate demise, ice-climbing.”
He said the large turnout “speaks to the individual and the community” that Salesse touched.
“He was often part of these other agencies that are here representing today,” Warden said, noting the presence of Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, and the BC Ambulance Service.
“He didn’t spare any moments to sitting around. He was always involved in something. At six-foot-five, you didn’t miss Mark. Easily the tallest member of our occupation. However, very gregarious, outgoing, a very gentle spirit as well. Never had a bad word to say about anyone. An all-around great guy.”
A native of Bathurst, N.B., Salesse had volunteered with Comox Valley Ground SAR and the Mount Washington Ski Patrol.
His earlier military career in the army began with the B.C. Regiment in Vancouver.
He later served with the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of Operation Palladium on two separate tours. He was awarded two NATO medals and the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal.
On Sunday, the interment and a service was held in Bathurst where his father, Maurice Salesse, and other family members could say goodbye.