Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, April 02, 2016

From Fear of Impending Death to Rescue

"I built an igloo [for shelter, carving the blocks of icy snow] with a small knife."
"We were in a kind of blizzard. That's why I got lost. I lost the trail road. I turned in the wrong direction between here and Pang[nirtung, Nunavut]."
"My son and nephew, they got a caribou. That's how we survived -- the meat from the caribou."
"We had one sleeping bag, one mattress. That's all we had. The sleeping bag went for my son. He was the most important to keep warm. Me and my nephew used our parkas to cover ourselves every night. It's hard for me to survive in that kind of weather, cold in the night."
"During the day it was all right, when the sun was up. We would stay outside all the time. We would get up in the morning and go outside right away after drinking tea. We would stay outside and move around so we were not just sitting in the same place. Only when it got dark we'd stay inside our igloo. We'd drink tea and go to bed right away."
"If he [his young son] died before me — if he died before my eyes — which one of us would die first? These thoughts were very heavy on me."
"A wolf started coming around — it was stressing me out at night — we were too afraid to go outside. It was very close. You could hear it howling. It was right on our trail, focused on us."
"We had run out of everything the day we were found. I was jumping happy. Very much. I was crying [when the Twin Otter sighted them and dropped by on its search mission]."
Pauloosie Keyootak, 62, Inuit, Nunavut legislature member
Pauloosie Keeyotak and his son and nephew were only carrying enough food for a short journey when they got lost on Baffin Island. They survived off two caribou, building an igloo and sleeping on the skins.
Pauloosie Keeyotak and his son and nephew were only carrying enough food for a short journey when they got lost on Baffin Island. They survived off two caribou, building an igloo and sleeping on the skins. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

It is often said that familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps more kindly put, it is that it is human nature to regard what we're familiar with as posing no great threat, even if what we are familiar with is a vast tract of frigid isolated, snow-obliterated featureless geology where familiarity with the lay of the land helps, but does not confer infallibility in weather predictions, recognition of direction, and expertly faultless reading of oblique landscape features.

Yet familiarity also all too often results in viewing cautionary measures for survival as excess and unneeded. Perhaps it is only those who have grown up and lived their lives in a geography as starkly inimical to survival as Nunavut in far northern Canada who would shoulder-shrug the possibility that they might conceivably become lost in its vast open white winter landscape where storms descend to lash the environment and confuse the unprepared.

Those who think ahead purposefully to minimize the prospect of being lost and surviving a long delay before a rescue mission might save them, might consider first of all taking along a communication device; satellite phone at the very least. Adequate tools and fuel to enable survival, sufficient food should a prolonged delay occur, and needed protection against the elements, and perhaps one kind of self-protective weapon to stave off threats from beasts whose own survival might depend on obtaining sufficient food.

Pauloosie Keyootak had set out with his 16-year-old son and his 47-year old nephew, Atamie Qiyuqtaq and Peter Kakkik respectively, for a fairly routine run between Iqaluit and Pangnirtung, a journey that generally takes eleven hours' transit in good weather. Because it is such a well-used route, shelter cabins have been erected to aid travellers should poor weather occur. The trio of travellers failed to encounter any of these shelter cabins because they were nowhere near them.

The track that crosses rugged terrain along a twisting coastline, climbing over mountain passes certainly can present as a challenge, but becomes far more of one when inclement weather presents. Intending to head north-east to Pangnirtung, the three travellers rode instead south down the shore of Frobisher Bay, turned around by a weather system that confused the landscape and their sense of direction. Once their error was recognized they realized there was insufficient gas to power them back into the direction they'd come from.

They had no choice other than to seek shelter from the high winds and the minus-30-degree Celsius temperatures. Which was when Pauloosie Keyootak set about using that small knife of his son's to carefully cut ice blocks for a traditional igloo for shelter from the storm and night-time temperature dips. When, after a few days' use, that igloo began deteriorating, it was time to build another. With them was a camp stove, some cooking fuel, tea and sugar. Water was plentiful; they just had to melt the snow surrounding them.

In their prolonged absence, searches were launched with people from both Iqaluit and Pangnirtung scouring the route, which they had inadvertently abandoned, while three aircraft, a government of Nunavut Twin Otter, a Hercules from the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax, and a military Cormorant helicopter were dispatched to the clear skies that prevailed, as the atmosphere remained cold.

"They were tired and hungry and thirsty when they got off the [rescue] helicopter at about 10:30     p.m.  They walked off under their own steam. They appear to be in good condition. They held their own out there until such a time as the search operation could find them", said government search spokesman Kris Mulaly, who added that travellers would do well to carry a GPS, or emergency locator; some manner of communications device.

Some 15,000 square kilometres of rock and ice had been scoured in that search to find the three lost people intact after eight full days followed without their appearance at their destination. Back in Inuktitut, Keyootak said: "I prayed to be found. I prayed and prayed and I yelled 'Amen!' and then I heard a plane."

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