Search and Rescue Plane on Training Mission Finds Stranded Hunters

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A search-and-rescue training exercise in the Canadian arctic last week turned into a real search-and-rescue mission when it saved a group of hunters who were stranded in the cold, unforgiving wilderness.

Tyler Amarualik, Lloyd Satuqsi, and Eugene Gibbons were on a hunting trip when their snow mobile broke down roughly 25 miles from Hall Beach in the Canadian Province on Nunavut.

When their SPOT device malfunctioned and they couldn’t locate their GPS coordinates, they built a temporary shelter. After a day of uncertainty, Satuqsi took off for the nearest town in search of help.

But after two days, Amarualik and Gibbons hadn’t heard from Satuqsi, nor had they seen any sign of a rescue plane.

That is until a crew from the Royal Canadian Air Force in a Twin Otter plane stumbled upon the pair during a training mission.

Each year, the RCAF performs a mission called Operation Nunalivut. The task of the mission was to locate an old mine site. After that was accomplished, the crew was surveying the land when Cpl. Jason MacKenzie looked out the window and saw a person waiving for help.

The plane circled back around, by which time there were two people waiving. It was Amarualik and Gibbons.

“We assessed it as a crew,” explains Captain Thom Doelman. “We didn’t know of any missing persons, but we felt that given that it’s the Arctic, given that it was about to get dark, that we couldn’t continue back to Hall Beach without checking on these guys.”

The plane was able to land next to their makeshift shelter, and the two hunters were ushered aboard, assuming they had been reported missing. When they asked Captain Doelman if Satuqsi had been found, it occurred to them that the rescue had been 100% serendipitous.

“At this point my heart sank because to find out there was a third guy out there, it was unbelievable,” Doelman said.

With the plane running out of fuel and darkness setting in, there was no time to look for Satuqsi. However, Doelman called to Hall Beach to help organize a ground search that found Satuqsi the following morning. The three were treated for hypothermia and frostbite but are otherwise fine.

“You could probably go crazy trying to think of all the things that had to line up for us to see these guys out there,” Doelman mused. “They’re the luckiest two guys in the Arctic that I know.”