Rescuers felt ‘powerless’ to help stranded Sanirajak hunters, sergeant recalls

Canadian Forces member who assisted in rescue said they feared they would be unable to save the hunters

Two of the hunters rescued in Sanirajak last week, seen in the middle of the back row, pose with Canadian Rangers, a United States Armed Forces member and Canadian Forces members. Sgt. Dominique Paul was a part of the rescue effort for the three hunters stranded on a capsized boat. At one point, Paul said they thought they were going to lose the hunters. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. Dominique Paul)

By David Lochead

What was becoming a powerless feeling for members of a search and rescue effort last weekend in Sanirajak turned to relief for Sgt. Dominique Paul when three hunters were rescued after their boat was capsized by a walrus.

“[It was] a huge relief,” Paul said of the hunters being rescued.

“I’m really glad the hunters made it back home that day.”

On March 11, Joey Sarpinak, John-Kirk Amarualik and Sandy Siakuluk were on a hunting trip when a walrus capsized their boat. The three hunters were able to survive on top of the boat for about six hours before crawling over thin ice to a search and rescue team that was on solid ice.

Some Canadian Forces personnel, along with Canadian Rangers, were conducting an arctic operations course that included patrolling northern communities. Their team happened to be in Sanirajak at the time.

Paul said he and three other members of his squad were at the co-op store when a Sanirajak resident came up to them and said a couple of people were stuck in the water and needed help.

While search and rescue is not their specialty, Paul said he and the three other military members decided to assist the search and rescue team.

“We kept working and supporting ground search and rescue as much as possible during the whole afternoon and into the evening,” Paul said.

Two of the CAF members helped get an engine ready for search and rescue’s boat. The ice was thin enough at the boat launch for a boat to go in the water, but when the boat reached the launch the engine wouldn’t start.

Making matters worse, on the way to the boat launch another search and rescue volunteer got into a crash with a pickup truck, further delaying the rescue team’s efforts.

The hunters were able to communicate with the search and rescue team. They knew where the hunters were, but without a boat to get on the water the hunters couldn’t be reached.

“For most of the afternoon it was a really powerless feeling,” Paul said.

The team saw the hunters stuck on drifting ice in the water, initially drifting south, then drifting north.

They would follow the hunters with their snowmobiles and equipment in case the hunters got close.

Around 6 p.m., the hunters started drifting toward the edge of solid ice.

Once the hunters were close enough, they spread their bodyweight out and made it to solid ice.

There was a medical qamutiik and a medic ready once the hunters made it onto solid ice.

The first hunter to make it was able to walk on his own once he reached the search and rescue team. However, the next two hunters were in a deep hypothermic state, so once a medic looked at them Paul said his section drove them back to the community’s health clinic.

“From what I heard, they made a good recovery and didn’t have any lasting injuries from the incident,” Paul said. “So we were really happy about that.”

He and his section attended the celebratory feast for the hunters the next day.

“At some point we thought we were going to lose those three hunters,” Paul said.

“It was a very emotional event at a certain point,” he added of the feast.

Joey Sarpinak was contacted by Nunatsiaq News for this story but was not available. John-Kirk Amarualik and Sandy Siakuluk could not be reached by Nunatsiaq News.


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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by Emergency equipments on

    In this generation has alot of questions why our emergencies are hopeless at times no equipments are on hand ready in cold frigid temperatures of this rescue,

    Technology has been here long enough to learn from now floats for skidoos should be built to handle few people to bring back to solid ice,

    I maybe dreaming too much this one day will be available future is unknown,

    Took a good think what went wrong with this hunt to become a emergency situation and glad they are well back with family again,

    Learn your preparation trips……..

    Survivor as well


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