A Toronto fire captain who was found at a California airport six days after vanishing from a New York state ski slope likely sustained some sort of head trauma along his puzzling journey across the country, American authorities said Wednesday.
Constantinos (Danny) Filippidis was unable to provide officers with many details about his route from Lake Placid, N.Y., to the Sacramento, Calif., airport other than that he believed he travelled most of the way in a transport truck and was not the victim of any crime, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said a day after the firefighter was found.
"When we asked him how he got here, he couldn't remember much," Sgt. Shaun Hampton told the Canadian Press. "He was skiing and that's what he last remembered. He had a significant amount of trouble remembering what occurred over the last few days."
Filippidis, a 49-year-old captain with Toronto Fire Services, was on an annual ski trip with friends and colleagues when he disappeared from Whiteface Mountain.
Frank Ramagnano, president of the Toronto Professional Firefighters' Association, said Filippidis had lingered behind his friends to do one more run on the slopes before he vanished just after 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 7.
His disappearance triggered a massive multi-agency search involving members of the U.S. Department of Environmental Conservation, New York state police, Homeland Security, U.S. border officials and volunteer Toronto firefighters, all of whom spent a combined 7,000 hours combing the rugged mountain terrain.
On Tuesday, Filippidis showed up at the Sacramento airport, where he contacted police around 9:30 a.m. using a newly purchased cellphone and identifying himself by name as someone missing from New York.
Hampton said police were initially wary of his story until they checked a national database of missing persons and found the report on his disappearance.
Officers found Filippidis wearing snow pants, a ski jacket and winter boots, as well as carrying a ski helmet. Hampton said the sight of the man clad in winter attire was nearly as striking as the "odd" story he told officers.
"It's a bit chilly here, but it's not that cold," he said.
Filippidis told police he did not recall the circumstances of his departure from New York, but recollected travelling to Sacramento in a big rig truck. He could not provide details of the vehicle or its driver. He told police, however, that he suspected he had suffered some sort of head trauma.
Filippidis next recalled being dropped off in Sacramento carrying a credit card, but no formal identification, Hampton said.
Filippidis told police he used the card to withdraw some cash, got a haircut, purchased an iPhone and somehow got a ride out to the Sacramento airport, Hampton said, adding that he had just under $1,000 in cash on him when he was found. He noted that Filippidis did not remember details of the vehicle or driver that took him on the last leg of his journey.
Once at the airport, Hampton said Filippidis first contacted his wife. Ramagnano provided a similar account on the day Filippidis was found.
"He had phoned (his wife) and called her by a nickname, she quickly recognized the voice and that it was him," Ramagnano told reporters. "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."
Hampton said officers spoke with Filippidis for some time and were confident he was not impaired by drugs or alcohol.
But the gaps in Filippidis' memory, combined with his surprisingly "nonchalant" demeanour while recounting the unusual events, persuaded officers that he was in need of medical attention.
"Our officers felt that he had potentially some medical health issues, maybe did sustain some head trauma or did have a medical emergency, and they were adamant that he be transported to an area hospital," he said, noting that his force was not currently investigating the situation further as Filippidis is not believed to have been involved in any criminal activity.
Ramagnano said Filippidis has since been released from hospital and that his family, who has asked for privacy, is arranging for his return home.
Before coming back to Toronto, however, authorities in New York said they want to speak to the firefighter to try and reconstruct events since his disappearance.
Maj. John Tibbitts of the New York State Police said Filippidis has agreed to return to the Lake Placid area to be interviewed by investigators, who are actively looking into what happened.
"At this point we want to assist Danny in getting back the last six days of his life and we ask that no one jump to any conclusions," Tibbitts said at a news conference.