Man plucked from certain death
Bravery, spirits and daring pilot combine for rescue

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

RANKIN INLET (July 14/99) - Two men were able cheat death and survive a frightening boat accident in deadly rapids this past week on the Kazan River, about 283 kilometres west of Rankin Inlet.

The 12-hour ordeal began about 11 p.m. on July 5 when American tourist Mike Gaudineer and his Rankin Inlet guide decided to head back to camp after spending the evening fishing. The men were going to meet up with a third companion, Robert Schwartz, who had remained at their camp site.

RCMP Const. Ken Foster of the Rankin Inlet detachment said the men were attempting to manoeuvre through a set of rapids when their boat flipped over backwards, tossing them and all their equipment into the swiftly-flowing river.

"As the men and the overturned boat were swept downstream the anchor of the boat caught, stopping the boat," said Foster. "One of the men had been trapped in an air pocket under the boat and was able to get free. Both then managed to crawl on top of the partially submerged, overturned boat."

Once freeing himself from below his 16-foot aluminum boat, guide Ron Brown knew the only way the two men could survive was if he went back into the icy waters to get help.

"I was very cold, but I knew right away somebody had to go for help and my only thought was to get off that boat and get to shore.

"I was the guide. It was my responsibility, so I just took off. I had to take my insulated shirt off because it kept dragging me down. I was pretty tired. I flipped on my back and did the back stroke, then the front crawl and even dog-paddled for awhile."

After finally reaching the shore, Brown had to walk for several hours in his sock feet to reach their camp site and rouse Schwartz from the opposite side of the river. The camp had a bush radio and the two men were eventually heard by a man in Gjoa Haven who had been flipping through the channels of his radio.

RCMP were quickly contacted and, soon afterward, a float plane carrying Const. Foster, Tommy Sharp and a nurse were on their way to the scene from Rankin Inlet.

"I can't say enough about that pilot (Kyle Ronan) and his daring feat of landing his plane by those rapids to rescue Mike," said Brown.

"It was a one-shot deal. If he'd fallen back in after sitting on the boat all night, I don't think he would have made it.

"When I was going down the second time, I remembered my dad telling me a long time ago to go on my back because it's easier that way. His spirit was right there with me under the water. I heard him tell me that again and that's what saved my life -- his spirit talking to me."

The two men suffered from hypothermia and exhaustion. They were transported to the Rankin Inlet Health Centre, where they were treated and later released. Brown is recovering in Rankin, while Gaudineer went back out shortly afterwards to continue fishing.