by Peter Moon
Canadian Rangers have completed a challenging search and rescue mission to save the life of an overdue trapper who fell through lake ice along with his snowmobile.
“It’s the first time the Rangers have had to search for me,“ said the trapper, James Chapman, who is a retired Ranger sergeant. “It was a relief to see them.”
He went through the ice in an area about 50 kilometers south of Peawanuck, a small Cree community near the Hudson Bay coast. He was on his way to his trap line.
“I went through the ice to about waist deep,” he said. “The first thing I did was grab my stuff and save my traps.”
He waded ashore, lit a fire to dry out, set up his tent, and waited four days for rescue.
When he was reported missing by his family the local Nishnawbe Aski Police alerted the Ontario Provincial Police who asked the Canadian Army for assistance in the remote community. The army authorized the use of the local Rangers. Corporal Denise Patrick manned a command post and four Rangers left Peawanuck on snowmobiles at 1 a.m. to search for Mr. Chapman. The Rangers were Sergeant Matthew Gull, Master Corporal Mike Koostachin, Corporal Maurice Mack, and Ranger Jason Hunter.
It took them seven hours of difficult and sometimes risky snowmobiling to reach the area where they thought they might find the overdue trapper. They encountered treacherous ice on the rivers, creeks, and lakes they had to cross and many areas of open water.
They eventually found snowmobile tracks that led into open water and footprints.
“I told my guys that it was not safe, let’s get on land,” said Sergeant Gull. “We were all concerned we may be finding a body.”
Sergeant Gull used a satellite phone to speak with his father, Moses Gull, in Peawanuck. He advised his son to fire some signal shots from his rifle. “I fired three shots at a time twice and I waited,” Sergeant Gull said. “After about 30 seconds I heard two shots at a time and we all sighed with relief because we knew he was alive. I went ahead and I began seeing old snowmobile trails and footprints in the slush. I yelled out ‘Jimmy’ and all of a sudden he walks out of the bush in front of me. It was a great relief when I saw him.”
The Rangers brought the former Ranger back to Peawanuck after a 15-hour mission. He was examined at the nursing station and released.
“The Rangers did a great job,” said Sergeant John Meaker, the OPP’s provincial search and rescue coordinator. “They did it all on their own and we didn’t have to send any OPP resources up there. They saved the trapper and that’s perfect. They know where they’re going. They know the ice, the rivers, the areas where they can cross. That’s knowledge we do not have. They have saved another life.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)