Missing skier found alive, 2,900 miles away
On day 7 of Whiteface search, missing man calls his wife — from California
WILMINGTON — On day 7 of a search for a Toronto firefighter who went missing while skiing at Whiteface Mountain last week, the man called his wife — from Sacramento, California.
Constantinos “Danny” Filippidis was alive and physically well, but his wife said he seemed confused. She told him to call 911, and when he did, Sacramento police made sure he got medical attention.
That’s the account Frank Ramagnano, president of the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Association, told Canadian news reporters Tuesday, the day the lost man was found under baffling circumstances.
“Filippidis was found alone, still wearing his snow pants, jacket and had his goggles and ski helmet when police officers responded to his call from just outside California’s capital,” the Toronto Star reported Tuesday night.
“Asked if Filippidis has a history of mental illness, Ramagnano said he didn’t know,” the CBC reported. “He noted that police were in possession of Filippidis’s passport, so it was unlikely he flew to California.”
Yet the local police found Filippidis at the Sacramento International Airport, near the rental car terminal, the Star reported.
“He indicated that he thought he may have sustained some type of head injury,” Sacramento police Sgt. Shaun Hampton told the Star.
NewYorkUpstate.com reported that Filippidis traveled across country on a “big-rig style truck” and that he slept “a lot,” according to Hampton. Along the way he bought a cellphone to call his wife. When he arrived in Sacramento, he was approximately 11 miles away from the airport. He stopped for a haircut before police found him, Hampton told NewYorkUpstate.
Finding Filippidis ended the massive, multi-agency search at Whiteface.
“The circumstances regarding this case are under investigation, and further details will be released at a later time,” New York State Police reported Tuesday afternoon in a press release.
The whole scenario is perplexing. How did a skier in New York wind up 2,900 miles away on the opposite side of the country?
One employee at the mountain jokingly said in passing Tuesday, “Whiteface is now home to the longest ski trail in the world.”
Filippidis, 49, is a captain and a 28-year veteran with the Toronto city fire department and was on an annual ski trip to Lake Placid and Whiteface with other firefighters, current and retired. Ramagnano has said the last any of them saw of Filippidis was Wednesday afternoon at the busy ski resort when he told a friend he wanted to make one last run. After the ski center closed at 4 p.m., his friends found a bag with his shoes in the lodge and his vehicle in the parking lot, but they couldn’t find him.
Filippidis and his wife have two children. His wife waited at Whiteface for him to be found, Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said Friday in an TV interview with Toronto’s CityNews. Pegg said he had met Filippidis and described him as “outgoing, positive, larger than life.”
Friend may visit him
Mark Chinapen, a friend of Filippidis and member of the Los Angeles Police Department Board of Directors, said he’s just as confused as everyone else.
“We’re all just really puzzled right now,” he said.
Chinapen volunteered that he does not think drugs were involved.
“He’s a firefighter,” he said. “They get tested every six months, and he’s never touched drugs in his life.”
Chinapen speculated that mental health might be a cause of the disappearance, although he’s never known his friend to have a problem with that before.
Chinapen described Filippidis as a fun and outgoing person.
Chinapen said he’s going to try and take a flight up to Sacramento to visit Filippidis.
“I’ll probably give him a smack when I see him for making us worry,” he said laughing.
The search involved as many as 140 people a day — some state employees and others volunteers — plus helicopters, drones, dogs and other equipment. Winter weather conditions made things difficult, including more than a foot of snow in the first day of the search.
In addition to state police, the state agencies involved were the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, and Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs Whiteface. U.S. Border Patrol also helped, along with Search and Rescue of the Northern Adirondacks (SARNAK), a trained volunteer group. About 80 of Filippidis’ fellow Toronto firefighters helped search as well, according to NewYorkUpstate.com.
SARNAK posted on Facebook Tuesday that its volunteers spent a total of 109.5 hours on this search.
Pegg issued a statement saying, “We are all very relieved to know that he is safe, following what has been an exhaustive search operation. On behalf of Toronto Fire Services, I would like to thank all those who participated in the search.”
A missing person is an extremely rare occurrence at Whiteface, according to ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin. On Tuesday, Lundin referred questions to state police.
State Police Public Information Officer Jennifer Fleishman said there might be a press conference this afternoon regarding the investigation.
The mood on Whiteface for the past week has been serious and emotional, according to skiers such as SUNY Plattsburgh students Luke Geiling and William Hoffstatter — that is, until Filippidis was found nowhere near the mountain. Now it’s all rather funny to them. As soon as the topic came up, they started laughing.
“They had a helicopter out today, and there were people probing the trails,” Hoffstatter said.
“I saw guys crawling on their hands and knees digging into the snow,” Geiling said.
The two guessed Filippidis must be running or hiding from someone.
The two are expeditionary studies majors at their college and received emails about joining the search for the lost skier. They appreciated how well the search-and-rescue team handled the situation.
“They really did a good job sweeping the mountain,” Hoffstatter said.
“Every effort was made to find this guy, and that should be known,” Geiling added.