In partnership with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Emergency Measures Organization Iqaluit and other partners, the Canadian Armed forces helped rescue 11 hunters and 20 tourists who found themselves stranded on an ice floe in the remote Nunavut territory Tuesday. Major-General Pierre St-Amand said it was “one of the largest Arctic rescues the Royal Canadian Air Force has been involved in.”
“Our crews continuously train to operate effectively in Canada’s North, and today that training helped save lives,” St-Amand noted. “I am very proud of the hard work our men and women put into this rescue effort.”
The adventure travelers awoke Tuesday to find that their camp was no longer connected to land. Moreover, the ice floe on which they were drifting was breaking apart.
Canadian-based Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions released a statement Thursday explaining what happened to the tourists on its trip: “A 50km (31 mile) long piece of ice broke off the floe edge, just north of Arctic Bay, Nunavut, yesterday morning. Travelers on Arctic Kingdom’s Great Migrations of the Northwest Passage program were at a camp on this ice, which has made its way along Admiralty Inlet, about 12km (7 miles) from its original position. Favorable evening tides helped slow the ice movement, and all 20 staff and travelers were brought back to land.”
Arctic Kingdom said it was the first time that a whole camp had drifted away, and it thanked Nunavut Protection Services, the local Arctic Bay Search and Rescue organization, Joint Task Force North from Iqaluit, and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., for their coordinated efforts by air and sea to retrieve the group. The agency added, “There are no injuries and the travelers are in good spirits.”
Authorities dropped food and supplies -- including three 20-person life rafts and a satellite phone -- Tuesday afternoon amid concerns that the ice floe showed signs of deterioration. Two attempts to rescue the tourists and guides, however, were abandoned due to high wind and fog. After two frightful days stranded in the Canadian Arctic, all were rescued and returned to safe land by Wednesday evening.
Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defense, congratulated everyone who helped in the operation. “A rescue of this scale in such a remote location requires careful coordination with many organizations in Canada’s search and rescue system,” he stated. “Thanks to the dedication of our men and women in uniform, and to all agencies involved, these people can return safely to their families and loved ones.”
Arctic Kingdom likens its trips to African safaris with seals, polar bears and narwhals instead of Big Game, but it has come under criticism for putting the thrill-seekers in a dangerous position. Spokesperson Graham Dickson told Canada’s CBC news that “there will be some discussion afterward about things that could be done in the future to prevent or better manage [the situation].”
"It's local knowledge and advice that's the biggest way to stay safe, and we work with the hunters and trappers organizations in the communities where we go, and we take their advice and the advice of the guides on where to go, and when to leave," he said. The hunters told CBC news that the recent “super moon” may have caused high tides and strong currents that were responsible for breaking up the ice earlier than normal this year.