NEWS

Douglas Bulleid, trapped on Great Slave Lake 64 years ago, tracks down rescuer

11/29/2014 11:28 EST | Updated 01/29/2015 05:59 EST
Douglas Bulleid has tracked down one of his rescuers — 64 years after finding himself stuck on thin ice on Great Slave Lake outside Hay River, N.W.T.

Bulleid, who moved to Hay River from England to work in the fishing industry in 1949, ran into trouble after setting out on the ice west of town with a friend to set a net to test fishing in that area. 

They set the net in a hole on Great Slave Lake, where the water was about nine metres deep. It wasn't long, Bulleid said, before he noticed something was wrong.

"And then all of a sudden I realized the net was going and going and going … the net was disappearing," he said. "I knew right then that our sheet of ice was moving and we started to drift away from the shore."

The pair quickly realized the ice was much thinner than they'd expected — leaving them without many options other than hoping for a miracle.

"It was a very bleak outlook because as night come on, waves got bigger under the ice and I could see … looking over a long, big piece of ice, you could see the waves underneath and the ice was actually bending," Bulleid said.

A call for help

As the evening wore on, Bulleid noticed the ice breaking off into smaller chunks — but said he was frozen solid.

"From head to toe, I was like in a cast."

Bulleid tried warming up in his toboggan, but nothing helped. Finally, in a fit of desperation, he started "hollering" for help.

Rescuer Donald Edgecombe said a young boy ran into his Hudson's Bay shop at about 6 p.m. local time, saying he heard someone yelling for help.

Edgecombe called the RCMP and headed out to help with a search party of six. 

"So the six of us loaded my 20-foot freighter canoe on the top of the Bombardier​, threw in two big planks and a 5,000-foot coil of rope," Edgecombe said. 

When the rescue team got to the edge of the lake, Edgecombe said, they just "started hollering" and immediately got a response.

​"It was a miracle. It was a saviour," Bulleid said.

Bulleid remembers he and his friend being loading into the canoe, but doesn't recall much beyond that. He said nurses had to carve through his frozen clothes in order to treat him.

"We were like statues."

Bulleid's friend didn't survive the ordeal.

'It was just lovely'

Bulleid recovered and continued his career in the fishing industry. Eventually, he started asking questions about the "miracle" team that saved his life on Great Slave Lake that night in 1949.

Edgecombe said his son saw an article about Bulleid's dream to reunite, and ultimately helped put the two men in touch.

"Then two or three days ago I got a phone call from Douglas thanking me for the rescue," Edgecombe said.

"That just absolutely blew me away, that after 64 years he would trace me down and make a phone call to me."

Bulleid was equally surprised and delighted.

"He couldn't believe it and I couldn't either. And I thought, 'This is blinking wonderful,'" Bulleid said.

"To think that he was one of the main people that was in on the rescue. It was just lovely."

MORE:cbcNews