A first-hand account of how six hunters nearly lost their lives
A tale of friendship, gratititude and survival”
IVUJIVIK – On March 14, six men all lost their snowmobiles to deep sea-ice near Ivujivik. This is a partial account of what happened.
All winter, caribou have been scarce around Ivujivik. The men knew there were caribou on islands 20 kilometres away. And so they kept trying to get to the islands by navigating through dangerous and rough sea-ice.
Our intention was to sell caribou meat to community members. Twenty-two animals were harvested and butchered by five men. The men hunted individually or in pairs, but met together at dusk.
Part of the snowmobile trail forked where a 90-degree turn was needed to avoid dangerously thin ice. I missed the turn and went ahead on the older trail, which was a lot smoother.
Before I knew it, three snowmobiles towing sleds fell through thin ice. My snowmobile fell through first, then Casey Mark's, then Charlie Paningajak's. It was terrifying.
What I saw was a nightmare: two men were neck deep, with the snowmobiles sinking fast. I was yelling, terrified by the prospect of sinking into the deep dark void.
"Guuti, Ikayungnga! (God, help me!)," I prayed.
The thin ice kept breaking as we tried to get on top. My boots fell off. I lost my mittens. My hands hurt from touching the ice.
After a few harrowing minutes, Adamie Mangiuk reached me and threw me a harpoon tied to a rope. I grabbed the harpoon and tried to get on the ice, but the ice broke. Adamie suggested that I grab the rope.
I heaved and kicked my legs as hard as possible, but I was losing strength. At last I was on top of the ice.
Adamie then went with Ali to where Charlie had fallen in. They threw him a harpoon head attached to a rope. Charlie grabbed the rope, went under for a few seconds and was pulled to safety.
They couldn't reach Casey, who was waiting on dangerously thin ice, perhaps 10 metres away.
They radioed for help from the community, using municipal walkie-talkies.
I was unable to move anywhere fast. My wet clothes were heavy. Even removing a rope from the sled was extremely difficult to do.
Ali and Adamie quickly set up a tarp, camping stove and caribou hide for us. Charlie removed his parka during the incident and was getting cold more quickly than me, as I hadn't removed anything. Adamie gave me a pair of mittens to wear, while Ali helped Charlie.
While Charlie was able to sit, I found it difficult because my back hurt. For a while, I knelt, then I decided to rest my feet in the heated tarp, wrapped in a coat.
I concentrated on keeping awake by looking at the tremendous display of the aurora borealis, the brilliant stars and man-made satellites and planes. I was more comfortable then and was not all that cold. The shivering even subsided for some minutes.
Ali gave Charlie his coat, which was too small for him. We radioed that we were pretty well okay, that we were in a heated tarp, with plenty of fuel for the stove.
Four men came to rescue. I don't know much of the details of their ordeal. Three of them lost their snowmobiles to thin ice, not far from the accident site. Casey watched them helplessly.
Mattiusi Iyaituk was floating in the water, Saima Mark partially fell in, and Sailasi got wet. All of them lost their snowmobiles. Johnny Luuku nearly fell through and was traumatized to the point of not wanting to return to the accident area. He went home.
Other men on snowmobiles helped by also going to the accident site: Johnny Mangiuk, Lucassie Ainalik, Adami Ainalik and Tivi Iyaituk.
Lucassie Ainalik brought home Mattiusi Iyaituk, and his clothes froze on the way back to the village. Then Ainalik went back towing his fibreglass canoe usually used for retrieving dead seals. He and another person went to get Casey. Casey's clothes were frozen stiff by the time he got home.
Three men brought clothes and a blanket for Charlie and me. We dried off, gained strength and went home.
The accident happened around 8:30 or 8:45 p.m. We got home around 2:00 a.m.
Many people, especially the hunters' wives, became hysterical hearing the news brought by walkie-talkie during the search and rescue efforts. They were just as traumatized as the men who almost sank.
It's been two weeks and a week-end since this incident. My fingers and toes are still numb, in much the same way that our jaw becomes numb after being given the needle. All the survivors, though, will be just fine, according to the nurse.
A lot of people helped us that night. I am grateful to the following:
- Adamie Mangiuk, who saved my life;
- Ali Qavavauq, who saved my feet and Charlie Paningajak;
- Sailasi Usuarjuk, for saving Mattiusi;
- Quitsak Tarriasuk, the elder who coordinated the rescue;
- Johnny Mark, for coordinating the rescue;
- Lucassie Ainalik, for rescuing and transporting Casey and Mattiusi to the village;
- Susie Kalingo, Louisa Paningajak and others for getting clothes and blankets ready;
- Qijuk Qaunnaaluk, for standing by on FM to keep people informed; and,
- Johnny Luuku, who initially responded with three other men.