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Thin line separates life and death

Travelling by land, sea or air in Nunavut always includes an element of danger. It’s a way of life that comes with the territory.

In some cases unforeseen circumstances can lead to tragedy. Last week two Baker Lake men were fortunate enough to escape a scary situation unscathed when they were rescued by a nearby ship after their canoe capsized near town.

The two men we spotted by a work boat from the Tuvak W on July 23, 15 minutes after their canoe flipped in the frigid waters about one kilometre off shore.

While I usually fill in at the Kivalliq News for only six weeks out of the year, I am fairly used to hearing about dramatic tales of survival.

Two summers ago, I spoke with some men who had to outrun a storm before deciding to camp on a small island on Hudson Bay. In that case they were prepared for the worst. They were able to make a shelter and were airlifted to safety one day later.

The mantra that defines most survival stories can often be summed up with the words, prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Sure it is possible to get entirely lucky and make it out alive when all the stars are aligned. But to go out on the land without being prepared, including carrying a personal locator beacon and telling others where you are going and when you plan to return, is to tempt fate.

Even with proper preparation, things can go awry due to mechanical malfunction. Just last week a pilot had to make an emergency landing on just one engine. While this is something that all pilots train for – prepare for the worst, hope for the best – the pilot nonetheless had to be able to execute his training under pressure.

In the case of the two recently rescued Baker men, preparing for the worst meant the canoeists wore life jackets. Without them they might not have been able to stay afloat, or yell to get the attention of the nearby boat.

The fact that they were found before spending too long in the cold water is something that can be owed to something much more surreal.

As Craig Farrell, marine superintendent for Coastal Shipping Ltd. put it, “no doubt the crew definitely saved their lives.”

Farrell explained that like all people who go out to sea, the crew of the ship is trained in how to do proper rescues. The two amazing stories from the past week are a testament to the human spirit, proper training and the ability to survive.

And while those involved in both cases were fortunate, there is no doubt that being prepared gave them the opportunity to be on Lady Luck’s side.