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27 February 2017

“The Luckiest Two Guys in the Arctic” - The Story of an Accidental Arctic Rescue

Tyler Amarualik poses with his rescuers   - Img: Belinda Groves/Canadian Forces
Each year the crew of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Twin Otter aircraft set out for Operation Nunalivut, a sovereignty exercise into Canada’s frozen north which, this year, is taking place in Resolute Bay and Hall Beach, Nunavut, from February 23rd to March 10th. Taking to the skies for some routine search-and-rescue training during the operation, the crew got a bit of a shock when their training exercise suddenly turned very real.

The training exercise in question saw the Twin Otter crew head to an old mine site deep in the tundra. Quickly locating the mine from rough coordinates, Captain Thom Doelman then began an expanding-square pattern in order to properly survey the area. It was at this point that Corporal Jason MacKenzie thought he spotted a solitary figure, seemingly in need of assistance, out on the icy expanse below.

“As you can imagine, we were shocked to hear this,” said Doelman.

The plane made a second pass of the area with only around 30 minutes of daylight remaining, and the crew were surprised to find that there were now two people out on the ice, waving frantically in an effort to attract the pilot’s attention.

“We assessed it as a crew,” Doelman said, “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.”

Once navigating around the challenges posed by landing an aircraft on ice with wheels attached rather than the preferred skis, something which the captain had never before attempted, the plane touched down by the pair’s small shelter. The pair were revealed to be Nunavut hunters out searching for caribou, but they had become stranded during their journey. With only 15 minutes left before it got too dark to take off, the crew invited the pair on board and quickly took off in the direction of Hall Beach.

“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 stated.

However, elation at the inadvertent rescue was short lived and soon turned to despair, as the pair now safely on board the aircraft asked if the crew had found their missing friend. Another man was lost on the ice.

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

15-year-old Eugene Gibbons
It transpired that the three individuals - Tyler Amarualik, Lloyd Satuqsi, and Eugene Gibbons - had headed out on their hunt 3 days prior. They had journeyed about 40 kilometres to the south of Hall Beach by snowmobile when disaster struck; their vehicle had broken down and the trio were now trapped out on the ice, a long way from home. Just to make matter worse, when they tried to activate the SPOT location device, it didn’t work.

The trio were now running out of options fast, so Amarualik and Gibbons stayed behind to build a temporary shelter while Satuqsi walked in the direction of town in search of assistance. When the crew of the Twin Otter found Amarualik and Gibbons two days on from Satuqsi’s departure, the pair had not seen their friend, nor anybody else for that matter, since.

With darkness now closing in around them and fuel running low, the crew of the Twin Otter had no choice but to head back to camp without Satuqsi, but a call ahead to the Hall Beach airport ensured that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, along with much of the hamlet, soon had a ground search underway. Satuqsi was thankfully found near Hall Beach on the Friday morning at approximately 4:30am. He was promptly flown to the nearby capital of Iqaluit for treatment more hypothermia and frostbite, but is now in a stable condition.

Amarualik and Gibbons both required treatment for minor frostbite but are otherwise healthy.

Talking to CBC News following the rescue, Gibbons, who is just 15 years of age, said briefly of his ordeal, “I was very happy I was going home, because I wasn't sure if I was going home, sleeping outside, fearing that we weren't going to be found.”

The trio certainly seemed to have good fortune on their sides that day, a sentiment shared not only amongst the survivors, but also their rescuers.

 “They're the luckiest two guys in the Arctic that I know,” said Doelman.

“[Search and rescue] is not our squadron's primary mission but we still train for it and practice it. It proves why we have to train to be ready for something like this.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.