Canadian Rangers and RCAF rescue stranded travellers

Sergeant Charles Wesley receives his rank insignia from Brigadier-General Jocelyn Paul, commander of the Canadian Army's 4th Canadian Division, at the opening of the new Cat Lake Canadian Ranger patrol in February. ~ Le brigadier-général Jocelyn Paul, commandant de la 4e Division du Canada, a remis au sergent Charles Wesley son insigne de grade lors de l’inauguration de la nouvelle patrouille de Rangers canadiens de Cat Lake en février.

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By Peter Moon

The rescue of a stranded family of eight, whose snowmobiles went through lake ice, is “proof that the rescue system works,” according to the officer commanding the Canadian Rangers in the Far North of Ontario.

A Ranger rescue party from Cat Lake First Nation reached the stranded eight, as a Royal Canadian Air Force search aircraft circled overhead dropping flares, and a search and rescue technician was deployed to provide help.

“Cat Lake are a brand new Ranger patrol,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson. “That’s absolutely awesome. That RCAF Hercules search aircraft and the Ranger patrol reaching the stranded party is a great example of the support the Rangers receive from the Canadian Armed Forces. The Rangers really are an indispensable community asset.”

Cat Lake is an isolated Ojibway community of about 500 people, located 415 kilometers north of Thunder Bay. Its new Ranger patrol opened in February. There are Rangers in 26 other First Nations in Northern Ontario. Rangers are part-time army reservists.

“It was a family of eight – four adults, a youth, and three younger ones – who were travelling back to Cat Lake last night from their trap line,” said Sergeant Charles Wesley, commander of the Cat Lake Ranger patrol. “They were travelling on lake ice and their snowmobiles went through the ice. The first one managed to make it to shore. The person on it probably got wet feet. Everyone else went into the water and got soaked. They were travelling in the dark and they probably couldn’t tell if it was open water or slush on the lake.

“They got to shore and got a fire going. They had some food, an axe, a chain saw. They were travelling with all the essentials for survival.’

They used a satellite phone to call Cat Lake, 30 kilometers from them, for help.

The manager of the community’s Northern store opened at 11 p.m. to provide food, and rescue supplies to the Rangers who organized a rescue team. The team consisted of Sergeant Wesley, Ranger Lavern Wesley, and three civilian volunteers, Abraham Keesickquayash, Alvin Quequish, and Chad Wesley. They left Cat Lake at 4 a.m. on snowmobiles, in the dark, and in foggy conditions that forced them to halt part-way for safer conditions in daylight. They had to be able to see the lake ice so they did not go through themselves.

As they approached the stranded party around 6 a.m., they saw the RCAF plane circling above and dropping flares. The search plane had sighted the stranded party’s fire, and dropped a phone so they could communicate.

“We used the phone they had dropped to talk to the aircrew right away.” Sergeant Wesley said. “We told them everyone was all right and they left. We got the two snowmobiles that had gone through the ice to shore where they will be recovered later. We brought everyone back to Cat Lake on the back of our snowmobiles and in our sleds.

“We’ve completed our first rescue as Rangers. That’s a good feeling.”

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

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