THUNDER BAY – A Canadian Ranger search and rescue team travelled more than 100 kilometers in severe weather conditions during a 12-hour mission to find and rescue a fisherman whose snowmobile broke through river ice, leaving him stranded near the Hudson Bay coast.
The fisherman, Sam Hunter, a guide and hunter from Peawanuck, left his bush camp on Friday to collect fire wood and do some ice fishing when his snowmobile sank unexpectedly through ice on the Burnt Point River, about 50 kilometres northeast of Peawanuck. He was thrown over the handle bars onto hard ice and injured his knees slightly.
He was unable to recover his snowmobile but he was able to get into the nearby tree line and get a fire going as the temperature dropped to -18C with a wind chill of -27C. He used his GPS device to send out a text message on Facebook to seek help. The message was seen by several people in Peawanuck who alerted the police and the Canadian Rangers.
“I put together a four-person search team,” said Sergeant Matthew Gull, the Peawanuck Ranger patrol commander, “and we left Peawanuck shortly after 4 p.m. We knew Sam needed help.”
The team snowmobiled through frequent periods of near white-out conditions caused by severe snow squalls. “It took us four hours to find his camp,” Sergeant Gull said. “We often couldn’t see 20 feet in front of us. Sam’s a diabetic and I saw right away he didn‘t have his medication with him, he’d left it in his camp. We knew he was somewhere near his camp but we didn’t know where, so we had to look for him in very difficult visibility. We got turned around ourselves several times. I said we had to find him.”
The searchers were driving along a frozen river when they saw a flicker of white light. ‘It was from his flashlight,” Sergeant Gull said. “He didn’t say anything as we drove up. I just approached him and gave him a big bear hug and I told him: ‘Man, I’m glad you’re alive.’ And he said: ‘I’m glad you got here.’”
They gave him hot tea and food, recovered his snowmobile, and got it restarted. They managed to find their way back to his camp, collect his belongings, and after a quick meal, they set out for the return trip to Peawanuck, with Hunter driving his own snowmobile.
They got back to Peawanuck shortly after 4.30 a.m. on Saturday. Hunter was released after a medical check-up at the nursing station.
“I’m so proud of my Rangers,” Sergeant Gull said. “Sam was in trouble and without his medication he might not have made it. The Rangers missed out on some community New Year celebrations and I missed my daughter Emelia’s seventh birthday party. But it was worth it. We got him”
The other members of the Ranger team were Master Corporal Pamela Chookomoolin and Rangers Aaron Isaac and Zavier Patrick.
“This is another example of the readiness of the Rangers to serve their communities in an emergency,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson, commanding officer of the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. “Like Sergeant Gull, I am very proud of the Rangers. In the past year they have done some remarkable rescues across the Far North of Ontario, often in very difficult conditions, and they have saved a lot of lives, as they probably did with this rescue. We should all be proud of them. They do a great job.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)