Canadian Armed Forces Member Missing in Avalanche

Above image: Captain Sean Thomas, right, is missing in an avalanche in Switzerland and presumed dead. Left, the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada badge.

A Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member is missing in an avalanche in Switzerland and presumed dead.

When the tragedy occurred, Captain Sean Thomas was on leave in Riffelberg, Switzerland, from Operation IMPACT, in the Middle East. He is presumed to have died in the avalanche that occurred on Monday, April 1, 2024, shortly before 2 p.m. in an unpatrolled area of the Riffelberg, Switzerland, near the Swiss resort of Zermatt, local police said.

NBC News reported a 15-year-old American boy and a woman lost their lives in the avalanche, and a 20-year-old Swiss man was flown to hospital with serious injuries.

ZERMATT, SWITZERLAND – A view of Riffelberg mountain station in the Swiss Alps.

Deployed to Jordan

“In this moment of profound reflection and sorrow, our thoughts go out to the family, friends, and colleagues of Captain Sean Thomas. We remember and honour Captain Thomas not just for his service, but for the unwavering dedication and professionalism with which he served our nation. His absence will be profoundly felt by all those who knew him and served alongside him,” Chief of the Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre said in a press release.

Captain Thomas was an Infantry Officer deployed as part of the Canadian Training Assistance Team in Jordan. He was helping to build the military capabilities of regional partners and set the conditions for stability and security in the Middle East.

Set to Return Home Next Month

Captain Thomas deployed in November 2023 and was scheduled to return to Canada next month, May 2024.

“It is with heavy hearts that we have learned of the devastating news that Captain Sean Thomas is missing and presumed dead after being caught in an avalanche in Switzerland while on leave from Operation IMPACT. I am profoundly saddened by this incident, which occurred at what was supposed to be a time of well-deserved respite. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the family, friends and loved ones of Captain Sean Thomas and we will do all that we can to support them in their time of grief,” said Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, Commander Canadian Joint Operations Command.

The Canadian Armed Forces chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) team oversees and mentors the Jordanian Armed Forces decontamination line to ensure proper standardization during Operation IMPACT, in Jordan, October 20, 2020.
Photo by Sailor Third Class Melissa Gonzalez, CAF photo. Image courtesy of the CAF.

Joined in 2018

Captain Thomas joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2018 and was a member of the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada, a Reserve unit under 31 Canadian Brigade Group.

“The loss of a member of our team is difficult for us all. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of Capt Sean Thomas, as well as to his friends and loved ones, in the aftermath of this tragic event. We share in your sorrow and stand ready to provide support during this difficult time of mourning,” added Canadian Army Commander Lieutenant-General Jocelyn Paul.

There were no other CAF members in the area at the time.

Canadian Paramedic Also Loses Life

Perth County paramedic Nikky Nagy also lost her life in the Easter Monday avalanche while snowboarding in Riffelberg, Switzerland.

According to the Beacon Herald, Nagy celebrated her 25th birthday three days before her death. She started her career as a primary care paramedic in Perth County almost two years ago and had worked as a seasonal firefighter with the La Ronge Regional Fire Department in La Ronge, Saskatchewan.

Sincere Condolences

In a Facebook post, Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Shawn C. Dumbreck said, “It is with a heavy heart that I inform you all that Captain Sean Thomas has passed away while on leave from his position on Operation IMPACT. Capt Thomas has been a tremendously active and dedicated young leader within the RHFC and 31 CBG over his career. I am sure many of you will have your own memories of him from his various roles over the years including Grand River Recruiting Officer, Holding Platoon Commander, and the Course Officer for a multitude of courses, such as BMQ, DP1 Inf, and ISCC. In short, he made an impact and will be missed dearly.”

LCol. Dumbreck added that the loss of a comrade can affect people differently. The unit’s Chaplains and Sentinels are prepared to provide support for those who would like to talk to someone.

“I ask that everyone take a moment to reflect upon the passing of our fellow Fusilier and to support each other during this difficult time,” said LCol. Dumbreck.

Captain Thomas’ family has requested that their privacy be respected.

“The Canadian Armed Forces extend their sincere condolences to Captain Thomas’ family and are providing the family with resources and support during this difficult time,” stated the press release.

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