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Hunters forced to abandon machines
Mile-wide ice crack stranded men north of Arctic Bay

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, July 21, 2012

Six narwhal hunters were forced to call for a helicopter rescue after a gap in the ice stranded them on land 35 km north of Arctic Bay. One of the men, Niore Iqalukjuak, said they expect to recover their snowmobiles, qamutiit, and maktak, all of which they had to abandon at the site so they could be rescued.

NNSL photo/graphic

A helicopter from the Polar Continental Shelf Program came to the rescue of six Arctic Bay hunters stranded due to ice breakup. - photo courtesy of Niore Iqalukjuak

"We knew that was the only option, and that we would eventually be able to go get them," Iqalukjuak said. "The only thing that worries us is that maybe polar bears will eat the seats, as they have a tendency to do that."

The men started their hunting trip to Elwin Inlet July 7. They met with good ice conditions approaching Ship Point, where the trouble started.

"The whole time we were down there it was foggy and windy from the north," he said. "Towards Arctic Bay, the ice started moving. By the time we got to Ship Point, it had opened up by about a mile."

They advanced toward the shore, and made it without incident, until a large river stopped them cold. They knew they'd have to call for help.

"That was the last resort," he said. "Even when we ran into the big crack, we didn't call anyone. We made sure that the only way we would call is if we ran into an obstacle that wouldn't let us go any further. That was when we ran into the river. Although we had two small boats that were capable of transporting skidoos, it was too risky to try to go any further."

But asking the people in Arctic Bay to come by boat was not an option, either. A helicopter was the only way to get them out of there, he said.

"It was too dangerous for someone to head from Arctic Bay towards us. The ice in that part was pretty much in pieces."

They called for help at about 4 p.m. on July 10. The Emergency Measures Office in Iqaluit called the Polar Continental Shelf Program in Resolute, which has aircraft across the North to support scientific researchers, but also to help in emergency situations.

No one needed emergency medical treatment, so the men were asked to wait until the morning to allow the pilot of a Bell 206LR helicopter in Pond Inlet to get the rest required for a safe rescue, PCSP operational base manager Tim McCagherty said.

"The captain (Fred Sparling) blasted out of Pond Inlet at about 6:15 in the morning, and proceeded directly into the location," McCagherty said, noting the veteran bush pilot took three men at a time back to Arctic Bay. "It was all said and done by 8:30, nine o'clock. Fred was certainly keen to get things going and the weather co-operated."

"We didn't even lose any of our equipment," Iqalukjuak said. "It's all safely on land. We tried to go get it this morning (July 17), but there's still too much ice."

Two of the hunters had success killing three narwhal. They had to leave their maktak at the camp, but two of the three maktak were recovered by boat via Nanisivik. They plan to wait until the ice melts to take a boat out to recover their equipment.

Iqalukjuak expressed his thanks to the Polar Continental Shelf Program for being there when they needed them.

"It's our pleasure to pitch in and help," McCagherty said, noting it's been a while since community members have required PCSP's help. "When things go sideways in the Arctic, everyone pulls together to make the conclusion a good one. We're happy to play that part from our side, certainly."

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