Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nunavut ice-floe rescuers saved from lodged boat

Can you imagine being this 17 year old? Ward and I do a lot of camping together - in the SUMMER! I know I am a southerner but I think about what that kid must have been going through – the courage and stamina required. He faced a polar bear and had to shoot it! Man that is something Ward and I don’t want to deal with – ever. But we know that with the amount of time we spend back-country the odds are in our favour that one day we will have an encounter with a bear.

We don’t carry rifles when we camp – only knives. And I read a story from BC about a bear that climbed onto a boat to attack a man gutting his fish. Another man came to the rescue and was stabbing the bear with a 16” blade and the guy said it was like it only scratched the bear! I told Ward then – I think we need a bigger knives.

I know nothing about the North and that's a shame. I loved the part in the story where the rescue boat became stuck and this group of 10 men hauled it over the ice flows back to the community - this heavy rescue boat - pushed and tugged by men for like close to 6 kilometres. Crickey - I whine to Ward about our portages and a very light 45lb Kevlar canoe!
Holy Cow - truly awesome.

The stranded 17-year-old boy is barely visible as a tiny speck near the centre-top of this aerial photo of the ice near Coral Harbour, taken during Monday's ice-floe rescue.The stranded 17-year-old boy is barely visible as a tiny speck near the centre-top of this aerial photo of the ice near Coral Harbour, taken during Monday's ice-floe rescue. (Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre Trenton)

A military search-and-rescue technician who helped save a 17-year-old boy stranded on an ice floe in the frigid waters of Hudson Bay, near the Nunavut community of Coral Harbour, says he'll never forget the dramatic experience.

"It [the rescue] was very rewarding and very challenging — the best one yet," Sgt. Randy McOrmand, based at CFB Winnipeg told CBC News in an interview Tuesday.

"It went very smoothly … to my relief. There were lots of challenges we had to overcome, of course."

The teen and his uncle, Inuit elder Jimmy Nakoolak, had been out on a weekend hunting trip when their snowmobile broke down on the way back to Coral Harbour, a community located on the southern coast of Southampton Island.

After Nakoolak departed on foot to get help, the ice cracked and the boy was stranded on an ice pan about 50 metres by 50 metres in size for about three days. Nakoolak was found on Sunday.

McOrmand, along with another military search-and-rescue technician reached the stranded youth on Monday morning after searchers aboard a Hercules aircraft spotted him dozens of kilometres away from the community.
Frostbitten, hypothermic, coherent

They parachuted onto a nearby ice chunk, and then spent about 10 minutes negotiating the freezing Arctic waters to reach the boy.

"We jumped over a few [floes]. We actually did end up falling into the water on a couple of occasions," McOrmand said, adding that they were wearing dry suits.

When they reached the boy, he was frostbitten and hypothermic, but coherent, McOrmand said. "He couldn't move. He had been on the ice wet for 45 hours. He was in rough shape."

Then, four more rescuers came on the scene. They had been in a boat in the mouth of Hudson Bay, about five kilometres offshore, since Monday night and were about 40 kilometres from the community of Coral Harbour.

The four men had manoeuvred their boat through the ice Monday and safely transported the boy and two military rescuers to shore. But sometime later, the boat got stuck while the men were trying to return to the community.

"That vessel attempted to make its way back to the community in Coral Harbour. Unfortunately it has become stuck in the ice and it's unable to move," Capt. Mike Young of the Canadian Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., told CBC News on Tuesday.

Later Tuesday, six additional men from Coral Harbour drove along the coastline on all-terrain vehicles, then walked for five to six kilometres on the ice pans to reach the lodged boat.

After a short rest and some discussions, all 10 men pulled the boat off the ice and hauled it back to shore — not an easy task at this time of year, since the ice pans are constantly shifting.
Never in immediate danger

"They were able to drag that vessel and kind of run it through the open water that was between them and managed that back to land, basically walking and dragging the vessel mostly," Young said.

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre — which groups the military, coast guard and other federal agencies for search and rescue missions — only learned Tuesday morning that the men did not make it back to Coral Harbour on Monday night as anticipated.

But Young said the men were never in any immediate danger, as they were wearing warm clothes and carrying emergency supplies such as heating sources.

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis St. Laurent had been dispatched from Iqaluit to help with Tuesday's rescue effort, but it has since been turned back.

Plans to bring in a helicopter from Labrador have also been cancelled.
Search officials released this photo of the youth they found on an ice floe near Coral Harbour, Nunavut, on Monday.Search officials released this photo of the youth they found on an ice floe near Coral Harbour, Nunavut, on Monday. (Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre Trenton)

Meanwhile, the rescued pair are in stable condition and being treated for hypothermia in Churchill, Man.

Nunavut RCMP spokesman Jimmy Akavak told CBC News that both the boy and his uncle were flown to a hospital in Churchill for treatment and observation.

"Both are said to be stable, but the young man was very, very much hypothermic so they're taking precautions on how they treat him and how they handle him," Akavak said. "So hopefully he'll do better."
Bear shot in self-defence

Akavak said while the teen was stranded on the ice floe, he was forced to shoot a polar bear that came within 150 metres of him.

Both police and conservation officers in Coral Harbour have confirmed that the polar bear was killed in self-defence.

More than 40 search and rescue volunteers from Coral Harbour, a hamlet of about 800 people, worked with RCMP and military crews in the three-day search.

In an interview Tuesday with CBC News, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk praised the military personnel who took part in the rescue effort.

"It's what happens each and every day. Unless it's on the front page of The Globe and Mail, people don't recognize the courage, the professionalism, that our men and women do every day," Natynczyk said.

"I'm really proud of our men and women. But I'm also proud of their families, because those families at home had no idea that their loved ones were going to launch off to the Arctic, or what they would do, or the risks they would face."

Two Hercules aircraft, a Twin Otter plane and a helicopter were brought in to assist.

Nunavut RCMP reminded Nunavummiut to be careful with difficult winter conditions at this time of year, and to carry survival supplies and radio equipment when they go out on to the land.


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