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Five-day search ends in success
'Massive relief' when MLA and two companions spotted from air

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Saturday, April 2, 2016

A five-day search for missing Uqqummiut MLA Pauloosie Keyootak, his son Atamie Qiyuqtaq and travelling companion Peter Kakkik ended in "massive relief" the evening of March 31 when all three men were found tired and safe.

NNSL photo/graphic

Uqqummiut MLA Pauloosie Keyootak, seen here in February 2015 being sworn in by then Nunavut Commissioner Edna Elias, went missing March 22, along with his son Atamie Qiyuqtaq and travelling companion Peter Kakkik. The three, who were 10 days on the land, were found March 31 after an exhaustive five-day search-and-rescue operation. - NNSL file photo

The men were 10 days on the land, their whereabouts unknown.

"Emotions were high when these guys stepped off the helicopter (in Iqaluit)," said Kris Mullaly, communications officer for the Department of Community and Government Services.

"People were saying, 'Oh my God, what a relief it is to find you.' There were a lot of handshakes, a lot of hugs. It was really a great evening for the people involved in this since day one."

Mullaly said the three travellers seemed to be in good condition.

"They might have been tired, hungry, thirsty, but they walked under their own strength off the helicopter. They went to the Qikiqtani General Hospital to have their condition assessed. I haven't received a report on what that condition is but there were no apparent injuries and they seemed to be in pretty good shape."

The trio's saga began after they departed from Iqaluit March 22. Their plan was to travel to Pangnirtung via a well-known trail, with cabins along the way. By all accounts, it would be a two-day trip. From Pangnirtung, they were to continue on to Qikiqtarjuak, Keyootak's home community.

"Shortly after they left on this path they became turned around by wind," said Mullaly. "The winds were strong, with blowing snow. That forced them to turn around in the other direction. They ended up going off course."

The weather event took place on the men's first day of travel. However, the call to the emergency line at CGS's Nunavut Protection Services did not come in until 11:45 p.m. on March 26, four days later. The ground search was co-ordinated the next morning, on March 27.

"We responded with our normal search procedure. That is, when you start a search, you take the last known position and you spread out by means of grids," said Mullaly.

Soon afterward, a Twin Otter was contracted to begin an air search. When the news reached the Canadian Forces Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax, a Hercules C130 and a Cormorant helicopter were added to the search.

"They really leaned forward on this," said Mullaly about the Armed Forces. "They offered assistance so we were able to get more aircraft into the air very quickly," Mullaly said.

"We continued with a huge amount of assistance from volunteer search and rescue. We had Inuit advisers to indicate what these people might be doing and good areas to search, and how to search."

Mullaly says the search was a long one, and covered 12,000 to 15,000 square kilometres over the southeastern portion of Baffin Island. Despite the fact the search dragged on without success, searchers remained focused.

"You follow your procedures and you stay on track," he said. "There was an amazing amount of dedication and focus that was displayed by the co-ordinators here and in Pangnirtung, at the local level. They made sure the areas in the grids were completely searched. They didn't move on until each grid area, established day by day, were searched day by day."

Finally, on the evening of March 31, one of the six volunteer spotters on the Twin Otter glimpsed snowmobile tracks. The Twin Otter followed the tracks and found the men - about 180 km southeast of Iqaluit, near Cape Field Bay.

"While they were out there they used their skills. They built two iglus which they used to take shelter. This indicates they were remaining calm, using the best of their skills to remain safe. They had rifles with them, as well. They might have been able to get some small game to sustain themselves. I'm not sure, but they were using their skills," said Mullaly.

Perhaps the only error Keyootak and his party made is they failed to sign out a SPOT device, which are free to sign out from any Hunters and Trappers Organization. They had no way of communicating.

The successful search included Nunavut Protection Services, the Canadian Forces and spotters and search and rescue volunteers from Iqaluit, Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuak,

"There is a massive debt of gratitude that we owe to volunteers and co-ordinators of this search effort, and all searches, for their professionalism and their dedication They're such an important part of search and rescue operations in Nunavut," said Mullaly.

So far in 2016, 61 searches have been conducted in Nunavut.

"Even while this search was going on, other searches were happening. There was a medevac situation, as well, that was being dealt with in Gjoa Haven. Different groups were responding to different situations. That happens quite often that there's more than one operation going at a time," Mullaly said.

He notes the search for the MLA and his travelling companions was not considered high-profile

"There's no level or order of authority, there's no level of profile for any search. If someone's out there missing it's always treated with the same protocol and procedures. This was a regular course of business for search and rescue operations."

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