Overdue Rankin Inlet hunter found after second aircraft joins search

Gilbert Pissuk, 24, has returned home


A 24-year-old man from Rankin Inlet. Gilbert Pissuk, who has been missing since Feb. 21, was found and returned home Feb. 27. (FILE PHOTO)

A 24-year-old man from Rankin Inlet. Gilbert Pissuk, who has been missing since Feb. 21, was found and returned home Feb. 27. (FILE PHOTO)

An overdue Rankin Inlet hunter, Gilbert Pissuk, 24, returned home late Feb. 27 after Rankin Inlet search and rescue teams got added help from the air.

“Time for a feast and a square dance! Way to go SAR!!! So glad Gilbert is found! Happy for and with the Pissuk family!” a Rankin resident said on the community news Facebook page.

Rankin Inlet search and rescue volunteers found Pissuk at about 11:00 p.m. more than 20 kilometres northwest of the community towards Gibson Lake, according to Rankin Inlet RCMP. The six-day search included Canadian Forces aircraft for three days, and a small local charter on the 27th, but it was a team of 17 ground-based searchers who found him in the end.

“He was walking. So they brought him in,” Rankin Inlet detachment commander, Sgt. Kim Melenchuk, said Feb. 28. “Everybody was so happy he was found.”

Ookpik Aviation, a private charter company based in Baker Lake, provided a single-engine Otter to help in the effort, said Boris Kotelewetz, accounting executive for the company.

The small plane departed Baker Lake for Rankin Inlet at 10:10 a.m. Feb. 27 to join in the search, Kotelewetz said.

A Canadian Forces’ C-130 Hercules aircraft had conducted all air searches up to that point.

One such plane out of Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg conducted an air search of the target area that morning, said Major Steve Neta of 1st Canadian Air Division.

Pissuk went missing Feb. 21 in an area 50 kilometres northwest of Rankin Inlet, towards Gibson Lake, according to searchers.

The hunter failed to return to the community as planned, late that day.

A blizzard in the area hampered local search efforts on Feb. 24. Rankin Inlet search crews reported the lost hunter to RCMP that afternoon.

Nunavut Search and Rescue in Iqaluit called Feb. 25 on the Canadian Forces, who enlisted a Hercules aircraft out of Canadian Forces Base Trenton.

The military plane swept the search area, which amounted to about 3,100 square kilometres, late that afternoon, Neta told Nunatsiaq News in an e-mail.

Canadian Forces sent another Hercules from 435 Squadron in Winnipeg the next day, Feb. 26.

“It arrived overhead at first light and searched through the day also,” Neta said.

“Those first two days had difficult weather and the winds on the ground caused very poor visibility.”

The same plane returned at first light on the 27th, and searched until Ookpik Aviation’s aircraft arrived from Rankin Inlet.

A search coordinator in Rankin Inlet mapped out a grid to guide search efforts from the air, Kotelewetz said.

Ookpik’s pilot “picked up six spotters in Rankin Inlet, and he’s got them in the aircraft, and they’re flying the grid,” Kotelewetz said Feb. 27.

Visibility in the community was poor when the aircraft arrived that morning, he said, “but just outside of Rankin, the weather was cleared-up.”

Costs for air searches in Nunavut by military Hercules aircraft are about $26,000 per hour, while Twin Otter aircraft cost about $22,000 per day in 2013, according to Nunavut’s protection services unit.

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