Canadian Rangers save brother and sister after snowmobile fire

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By Peter Moon

A brother and sister escaped unharmed when their snowmobile was destroyed by fire while they were travelling from Wunnumin Lake to Nibinamik, two small Oji-Cree communities in the Far North of Ontario.

A successful rescue operation was started by the pair’s father, Sergeant Paul Oskineegish, who commands the Canadian Ranger patrol in Nibinamik.

He was in Wunnumin Lake for a popular hockey tournament that attracted players and supporters from several First Nation communities, when he received a call on his cell phone. The call was from his 18-year old son, Ridley, who had played in the tournament, and left for home by snowmobile with his sister, Marcelline, aged 12.

Nibinamik is 60 kilometers from Wunnumin Lake. The isolated First Nation communities are about 500 kilometers north of Thunder Bay.

“Ridley had a satellite phone, and he said the Ski-Doo started smoking,” Sergeant Oskineegish said. “He stopped and tried using snow to get the fire out but the fire took over. He was able to disconnect the sled, but he couldn’t get to a full gas-can on the back of the Ski-Doo. I thought at first it was nothing serious. But I found out later the fire destroyed the Ski-Doo. I don’t know what caused the fire.”

The brother and sister had no emergency supplies, and the temperature in the late afternoon was 1°C, but expected to drop quickly to an overnight low of -12°C. The fire occurred about 20 kilometers from Nibinamik. The pair started walking to Nibinamik. Ridley is a Junior Canadian Ranger.

Sergeant Oskineegish had difficulties getting help. Most of the Rangers in Nibinamik had gone to the hockey tournament or could not be reached. The experienced hunters who could have helped were out hunting moose. The local police were unable to mount a rescue mission, and contacted the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The OPP asked the Canadian Army for help, and the Rangers, part-time army reservists, were authorized to conduct a search and rescue operation.

There were only two Rangers in Nibinamik at the time. Master Corporal Leo Oskineegish assumed local command of the rescue and manned a command post. Ranger Jethro Oskineegish teamed up with a civilian volunteer, Mathias Oskineegish, grandfather to the missing pair. Both Master Corporal Oskineegish and Ranger Oskineegish are cousins of Sergeant Oskineegish’s.

Ranger Oskineegish and Mr. Oskineegish found the missing pair walking about 15 kilometers from Nibinamik, and returned them to their home unharmed.

“I’m very happy about the missing pair being saved,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson, who commands the Rangers in Northern Ontario. “Although they didn’t have any survival equipment they did have a satellite phone. If they hadn’t had it, it could have been hours before we were alerted and been able to go out and find them.”

“The Rangers are an indispensable community organization, but it’s great that there are other members of the community like Mr. Oskineegish, the grandfather, who are ready to volunteer and assist in situations like this. We appreciated his help.”

(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)

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