Son describes emotional mission to find missing Arviat hunter

Thomas Hiatalaaq Alikaswa was missing for 10 days after going out on the land May 2

Thomas Hiatalaaq Alikaswa, centre wearing sunglasses, is welcomed back to Arviat after he was missing on the land for more than a week. (Photo by Eric Anoee, special to Nunatsiaq News)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

It was a red object spotted in the distance and a hunch that it might be something important that led Jamie Kablutsiak to his father.

The helicopter that brought Thomas Hiatalaaq Alikaswa back to Arviat is parked at the airport May 12. (Photo by Eric Anoee, special to Nunatsiaq News)

It was May 12, and Kablutsiak was taking part in one of several search flights as a spotter in one of Ookpik Aviation’s Twin Otter planes, scouring the land for Thomas Hiatalaaq Alikaswa.

Alikaswa had been missing for 10 days. He went out on the land on his snowmobile and his qamutik, a traditional sled, around May 2.

When Kablutsiak learned his father still had not come home by May 5, he didn’t think much of it.

It wasn’t until Kablutsiak himself spent the May 6 and 7 weekend on the land that he learned a search-and-rescue mission had been formed to find his father. He soon joined in.

The week rescuers spent looking for his father was stressful and scary, Kablutsiak said. And yet he, his family and the community held on to the hope that his father was still alive, somewhere out there.

“I had that confidence deep down in my heart, and I knew that dad was OK,” Kablutsiak said in a phone interview.

“I had that confidence that I’ll find him.”

A pivotal moment came May 10 when Alikaswa’s qamutik was discovered, trapped in some branches with most of his supplies still there, including his gun.

The searchers used the qamutik as a point of reference for future searches.

Kablutsiak said he shed tears at times when his father still couldn’t be found.

But then he spotted the red object in the distance through his binoculars.

Knowing Alikaswa often goes out in a red jacket, Kablutsiak had a hunch it was him.

It was.

“We were all yelling away in disbelief,” Kablutsiak said.

The crew brought the helicopter closer to Alikaswa, who was waving them down.

Arviat residents rush to the airport to welcome Thomas Hiatalaaq Alikaswa back to town May 12. (Photo by Eric Anoee, special to Nunatsiaq News)

“I got off the chopper, ran to my dad as fast as I could, hugged him really hard and tight,” Kablutsiak said.

“We had a big group hug… I had that fight in me to find him, I had that confidence.”

Alikaswa was located about 175 kilometres outside Arviat.

For Thomas Hiatalaaq Alikaswa’s friends and family, this was the best news they could have hoped for.

Daniel Alareak, the community’s search-and-rescue co-ordinator, made the announcement on a local radio that Alikaswa was found.

“They are now bringing him home; he is OK,” he said in Inuktitut.

He recalled the excitement among his colleagues when the news came in that Alikaswa had been located.

“There was some yelling happening and tears in [the] hamlet office,” he said. “It was pretty exciting.”

When Alikaswa stepped off the plane, he was greeted by a large crowd of Arviat residents who came to celebrate his safe return and lead him on a parade through town.

Then he was taken to a health centre as a precaution but was able to go home the next day.

Kablutsiak said his father is not ready to share details from the ordeal. But when he is ready, Kablutsiak said, Alikaswa will have a good story to tell.

Since coming back, he has spent time with his family and friends.

Kablutsiak reiterated his appreciation for the work of the rescuers who looked for his father, and thanked everyone from Arviat and beyond who wished his family well with their words and prayers.

“I just want to thank the man upstairs for guiding him, and for all the prayers that were said for my dad to be safe, and for all the support that we got from the community,” Kablutsiak said.

“Thank you is not enough.”

Alareak urged anyone who becomes stranded on the land to stay close to the tools they have and survive off the land; doing anything else could make the search more difficult.

“Stay where you are when there’s engine failures or [you] cannot move anymore,” he said.

“Please stay where you could survive from your stuff.”

Share This Story

(9) Comments:

  1. Posted by 867 on

    I wonder what happened to his in reach/spot device? Did he lose it? Battery died?

  2. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    every Hamlet, RCMP and/or Wildlife Office have a SPOT Device which can be signed out.

    Did this Hunter have one?

    We are very very thankful it ended well. but it could have gone the other way too.

  3. Posted by CONSEQUENCES on

    It’s time to start having Nunavut wide consequences for individuals who need S&R do to being lost/broken down or all around just dumb that don’t carry a device of some sort (cell in range) or a spot device.
    This type of thing shouldn’t be an issue this day and age with technology. It’s time to start charging back S&R costs of this nature.
    Just stop it all you experienced hunters that think they don’t need these devices. They are free in almost every community to borrow and RIA’s all have programs that allow every beneficiary 100% funding for these things.
    ….CONSEQUENCES to change habits…. because asking nicely isn’t working for some people

    • Posted by oh ima on

      I like to see you confront these elder hunters about that in person to teach them about consequences! Be the brave key board warrior that you are.

      • Posted by Brave Keyboard warrior on

        This must be one of the only places in earth where search and rescue would not be billing the man for the costs associated with the rescue. Local HTO’s can make it mandatory for anyone out on the land to have an in-reach. This doesn’t only apply to elders but countless young hunters think they’re above this important lifesaving technology.

      • Posted by CONSEQUENCES on

        What does this have to do with elders, this was never mentioned in the comment. And it’s not my job to teach these elders it’s their kids and grandkids. Does my elderly (70yrs) father know how to use a GPS? YES… Why because I went out and bought him one and taught him how to use it (I even set up the emails and text messaging system with him). Why is it always someone else job to figure these things out. Good on this guy for surviving 10 days out there, but that was 9 extra days of search expenses that he should be billed for.
        Stop making excuses for the “Elders”. if they aren’t responsible enough to use this technology to save their lives then they should be held responsible (or not go out alone)…

  4. Posted by Name withheld on

    Glad that he is safe and back home!! That’s all that matter’s at this moment.

  5. Posted by Charges on

    Anywhere else in the world this is easily $70000 in fees charged. Glad people are found but come on use the free tech available to you.

    • Posted by Alaskan on

      Not so fast there. They don’t charge people lost and needing rescue in Alaska. More than a hundred rescues a year easily. State troopers do it if they can but the US military does most of the difficult rescues. Very valuable training for their helicopter and big plane pilots and medics. They love racking up “Saves” and no one ever mentions money for rescues here except some years they talk about charging a rescue fee for mountain climbers who risk their lives trying to climb the highest mountain in North America. Lost on the tundra, mountains or trees they will all be looking to “save” you for free.

Comments are closed.