Three Cambridge Bay residents were found alive after a pair of extensive searches in the past few weeks, the most recent concluding on June 12.
“I’m glad it’s a positive outcome that we’re talking about,” said Jim MacEachern, the hamlet’s search-and-rescue coordinator, who had high praise for the community’s search crew. “Our search-and-rescue group are amazing, and we are very, very fortunate to have (helicopters) that are accessible.”
A common denominator among the missing travellers involved in the two separate incidents was the lack of a communications device, which could have prevented mobilization of numerous people and aircraft, said MacEachern. Each of the searches cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, a tab covered by the GN’s Emergency Measures Organization.
With summer just around the corner and many people heading out hunting or to stay at cabins, MacEachern said the hamlet is planning to call a community meeting in the near future to remind residents to be sure to take a satellite phone or tracking device.
Last week, a man in his early 20s was able to reach a cabin in the Augustus Hills on foot after he ran out of gas for his snowmobile. He had been with friends at another cabin in Ferguson Lake when he left by himself on Saturday morning.
“Over the weekend we had pretty severe weather, winds of 50 to 70 (km/h) and blowing snow,” said MacEachern. “He actually got turned around and instead of heading towards Cambridge Bay, he ended up on the north side of Ferguson Lake and that’s where his machine ran out of fuel. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any reserve fuel or any supplies or provisions.”
The man walked several kilometres and encountered a cabin that happened to be occupied by the owner, who had a communications device and alerted rescuers. By that time, the search had gradually scaled up to close to 50 people and two helicopters, after the man was reported missing on Monday evening.
“He was hungry, thirsty, dehydrated and emotionally drained,” but he had no injuries, MacEachern said of the rescued man.
A few hours earlier, optimism was starting to wither among some of the searchers, he admitted.
In late May, it was a man in his late 50s and another in his 40s who went missing for almost a full week. The search for them entailed a Hercules plane, a Twin Otter, a helicopter and nearly 50 individuals scouring a massive 36,200 square km area, only knowing the men were originally destined for Wellington Bay.
They too were found without injury. They had used their skills to make shelter, MacEachern noted.
The absence of a Spot or InReach device was key, however.
“As a community, our big takeaway are these basic essentials that everyone should have with them before they head out,” he said.
For those who don’t own the communications devices, some are available to be borrowed from the Hamlet of Cambridge Bay office.
Also to be reinforced at the upcoming community meeting is the message that it’s best not to wander away when lost.
“A couple of the elders on our search and rescue committee want to make sure that people are advised to stay with their machines,” MacEachern said. “Eventually the machines will be found, so it’s far safer in the long run for people to stay with their machines, definitely.”