THUNDER BAY – A civilian volunteer accompanying a Canadian Ranger search party for a stranded hunter is presumed to have died after he disappeared in blizzard conditions during the journey back to Fort Hope in Northern Ontario.
“This is the first time we’ve lost anyone in a Canadian Ranger search,” said Captain Mark Rittwage, the officer commanding the Canadian Rangers in Ontario. “This civilian volunteer lost his life serving his community.”
The missing man is Albert Boyce, 47. The Ontario Provincial Police will begin a search for his body when weather conditions improve. He is presumed to have drowned after tracks believed to be made by his snowmobile were found near a hole in river ice. An empty fuel jerry can was floating in the water.
The remote Ojibway community of Fort Hope, located 300 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is devastated by the loss, said Master Corporal Harry Papah of the local Ranger Patrol.
The search in which he lost his life began late on Tuesday when David Waboose, 75, who was travelling by snowmobile to join his family at a goose hunting camp on their trap line, went through river ice. He managed to get to shore and build a fire and used a satellite phone to call for help.
The Nishnawbe Aski Police in Fort Hope, who have no snowmobiles, tried to get volunteers to go to the man’s aid but were unsuccessful. They asked the Canadian Army for help.
“Our help was authorized,” Captain Rittwage said. “This was supposed to be a routine rescue. Three Rangers and Mr. Boyce, as a civilian volunteer, went out to get Mr. Waboose. They located him and he was cold, he was hungry, and he wanted to get home. While they were transporting him back to Fort Hope Mr. Boyce either became separated from the Rangers in the blowing snow or his machine broke down.”
Weather conditions at the time were difficult with poor visibility from blowing snow and conditions on the ground were often wet and slushy.
The Rangers refueled their snowmobiles and went back to look for Mr. Boyce, only to find what appeared to be his snowmobile tracks leading to a hole in the ice.
Mr. Waboose was admitted to the nursing station in Fort Hope. He was flown by medivac plane to Sioux Lookout yesterday.
Captain Rittwage praised the performance of the Canadian Rangers in the emergency. Sergeant Jean Rabbit-Waboose, the local patrol commander, stayed in the community to organize a a command post and organize the Ranger response to the emergency. Numerous Rangers were involved, including Ranger Charlie O’Kees, the patrol elder, who manned the communications equipment.
“It goes without saying that the level of dedication of the Rangers to go out in weather conditions like this, to put their lives at risk to help a fellow community member is outstanding,” he said. “They are courageous in situations like this. When someone in their community needs assistance they go and they do a professional job.”
The three Rangers who went to the rescue of Mr. Waboose were Master Corporal Harry Papah, Master Corporal Sarah Nate, and Ranger John Meeseetawageesic. They were joined by Ranger Quincey O’Keefe when they went back a second time to look for Mr. Boyce only to find he had gone through the ice and drowned.
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affair ranger for 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)