By Peter Moon
ATTAWAPISKAT – A search party of four Canadian Rangers and a civilian volunteer tracked a missing Attawapiskat man‘s footprints in the snow for five hours before finding him and returning him to the community unharmed.
The search, most of it on frozen James Bay, was conducted at night using the headlights on the searchers’ snowmobiles. It was a difficult and time-consuming search because the man frequently stopped walking on snow, where he left footprints and walked on ice, where he left no tracks.
The man was in his 20s and apparently mentally troubled. He was seen walking away from the Cree community in the dark, wearing summer clothing of sneakers, a hoodie, and a windbreaker. The temperature at the time was 2C and expected to drop to -3C overnight.
The local police alerted the Ontario Provincial Police who asked the Canadian Army for help. The army authorized members of the local Canadian Ranger patrol to begin a search for the man. The Rangers are part-time army reservists.
Four Rangers – Master Corporal Clayton Wesley and Rangers Jack Linklater Jr., Abraham Nakogee, and Paul Wesley – were joined by Gerald Kioke, a civilian volunteer.
They found the man’s tracks in the snow and began following them but continually lost them when he walked on stretches of ice.
“It was a time-consuming process following his foot tracks,” said Master Corporal Wesley. “Every time we looked for tracks they would sometimes disappear because he was walking on the frozen bay and he didn’t leave tracks on the ice.
“He stopped a few times to eat snow. We could see his fingerprints in the snow. We picked up one of his sweaters. He had taken it off and thrown it down. Then he started leaving tracks in a zigzag pattern. It looked by everything he was trying to run away from us. We eventually located him at 1.57 am. By then the temperature had dropped. We gave him something to drink. He didn’t want anything to eat. He didn’t say anything to us.
“With what he was wearing I don’t think he’d have survived the night.
“The civilian volunteer transported him back to the community. It’s a good thing we found him when we did because on the way back they saw a wolf running in front of us.”
Sergeant John Meaker, the OPP’s provincial search and rescue co-ordinator, was impressed with the speed with which the Rangers organized the search and conducted it. He said it it would have taken the OPP several hours to fly a trained emergency response team to Attawapiskat to start a search.
“Once again,” he said, “the OPP are very thankful for the dedication, training, and commitment that the Rangers show on a continual basis in support of our GSAR (ground search and rescue) efforts in the North.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson, who commands the Rangers in the Far North of Ontario, said the man’s life was likely saved by the search party’s fast response and determined efforts to find him.
“I’m impressed by our Rangers,” he said. “I’m always impressed by what they do in situations like this. They save lives and they really do serve their communities and Canada. I appreciate the assistance of the civilian volunteer.”