Felix Anablak’s journey from Cambridge Bay to Kugluktuk did not go the way he planned.
The Kugluktuk resident visited Cambridge Bay for the annual Umingmak Frolics, and on the morning of May 16, began the long ride home on a newly purchased side-by-side.
He almost completed the journey, but as he neared his destination, his vehicle got stuck in the slush brought on by warming temperatures, and he could not continue.
By that point, it had been nearly three days since anybody had heard from him, which left community members in both Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk with no choice to begin searching for him.
“We had our frolics going on at the time of search, but people were not hesitant to join the search,” said Jamie Taipana, acting chief administrative officer, and a key member of the search that began on Friday, May 19.
The warming weather also complicated the search for Anablak, as the widening ice leads made travelling across the land difficult. As a result, the search quickly took to the air.
“We gathered at approximately 3:15 p.m. and we activated the search and rescue team, and contacted Nunavut Emergency Management immediately,” Taipana said. “They felt the ground search was too dangerous, and we requested an immediate air search. Approximately 15 minutes later Nunavut Emergency Management granted that approval and the GN procured aircraft to start the search.”
There were multiple aircraft involved in the search, provided by Kenn Borek Air, Air Tindi and Canadian North. The crews of those craft were aided by 10 volunteers from the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA). Canadian Helicopters also contributed a craft to the search, while the Coast Guard, RCMP and community members from both Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk assisted on the ground.
The team searched for just shy of three hours on Friday, nine hours on Saturday, and six on Sunday, when they were “hampered a little bit by weather,” according to Taipana. It wasn’t until Monday, May 22 that the crew aboard the Air Tindi craft finally spotted Anablak near Tree River, about 70 kilometres east of Kugluktuk.
He had been pulling some gear in a sled behind his side-by-side, and had taken shelter in his tent, but was running low on supplies. And unfortunately, his ordeal was not quite over.
“We were not able to land the aircraft on the ice,” Taipana said. “The search team that was onboard the aircraft had an emergency drop bag which had water, military rations and a note that said ‘please stay where you are.’”
“The aircraft circled him, we dropped the bag from the aircraft, he walked over and picked it up, read the note, then waved to the aircraft.”
The aircraft then refuelled in Kugluktuk before returning to Cambridge Bay. On the journey back, it flew over Anablak again and jettisoned another package containing “six sandwiches and some chocolates bars,” according to Taipana.
By that time, Anablak’s position had been given to the search team in Kugluktuk, who sent a group out to locate him. They finally reached him around 3 a.m. on Tuesday, May 23.
“Once we advised the Kugluktuk search and rescue that this was his exact location, three family members and a local Elder went over on a snowmobile,” Taipana said. “They brought a boat on a sled and actually drove over to pick him up.”
“Once they found him, they put his sled together, they got his side-by-side pulled out of the slush, and arrived back in Kugluktuk around 1:15 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.”
Anablak’s safe return home sparked a feeling of relief in both communities.
“It’s such an amazing feeling once we’re able to bring anybody back from a search,” said Taipana. “It’s a team effort from every search member.”
“We’re very thankful he was fine.”
While Anablak’s safe return to Kugluktuk is the most important thing, Taipana is hopeful the story will encourage anybody setting out on the land to take proper precautions. The surest safeguard against trouble, he says, is using a SPOT device, which can alert searchers to a person’s exact location, or an inReach device, which allows users to send messages to friends and family, no matter where they are.
“The hamlet office does have spot devices that are free to sign out, and the local hunters and trappers association have inReaches that are free to sign out as well, and we can train on the use of the devices,” he said.