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Gjoa Haven mourns hunter's death

Kathleen Lippa
Northern News Services

Gjoa Haven (Dec 15/03) - It was supposed to be a wonderful few days of caribou hunting for Roland Qirngnirq, Charlie Qirqqut and Curtis Qirqqut.

Instead, the trip 70 km southwest of Gjoa Haven Dec. 1 ended in tragedy when 26-year-old Charlie, a well-known hunter and guide, died of exposure.

"He had his parka off, his hood was off," recalled search and rescue worker Adam Ukuqtunnuaq, who was one of several workers who discovered the frozen body on Dec. 6.

Try to keep warm

"He was trying to dig inside the snow to keep warm, trying to make a tunnel," recalled Ukuqtunnuaq, "but there was not much snow there so he covered himself with a tarp."

Ukuqtunnuaq suspects Charlie removed his parka when hypothermia set in and he started sweating.

"He took four or five steps from the tunnel. From there he just couldn't make it anymore."

A snow storm hit the area throwing off the three men travelling on snowmobiles. They had basic supplies, including a tent, blankets, hunting gear and a snow knife.

"I think that's when they lost each other," said Ukuqtunnuaq. "They had GPS but the batteries were frozen. They didn't know where they were anymore."

Searchers set out to look for the three on Dec. 3. They fought bitter winds and -35 C cold during their search, praying the hunters stayed put in their tent.

Then the searchers found footprints.

"I saw old tracks from two guys that were walking," recalled Ukuqtunnuaq. "The footprints were covered in snow from the blizzard. We kept searching. Then we saw new footprints."

Searchers followed them to Curtis, who was in a tent with severe frostbite on his feet.

"He couldn't even walk anymore. We had to carry him to the helicopter."

He was medevaced to Yellowknife where he is receiving treatment.

One hunter escapes injury

Roland, who stayed put in his tent throughout the storm, escaped injury. "He's walking around," said Adam. "But he is taking it kind of hard."

Ukuqtunnuaq is proud of the rescue effort that involved at least 13 snowmobiles crowded with men. They searched the land for 57 hours.

"That's the good part, that we managed to find the two guys. But for Charlie, it was so hard for us."

The community is stunned by the loss of the experienced and well-liked hunter.

"That is what makes it so difficult for people," said RCMP Cpl. Mike Toohey in Gjoa Haven. "Charlie was very comfortable on the land. He was a well-respected hunter."

Loved hunting

"He loved hunting so much," said Ukuqtunnuaq. "He went out at least once a week. Just got out there and enjoyed life out on the land."

Charlie came from a big family and had many children of his own.

"He loved to play sports, too," added Ukuqtunnuaq, who knew him well. "I've seen him play hockey. His best sport is hockey. He has got so many brothers and they all play hockey with him."

A funeral was scheduled for Thursday. The searchers were still coming to terms with the tragedy.

"All of us that were searching out there, we all had our tears dropping when we saw the body," said Ukuqtunnuaq.