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Helicopter Involved In Nunavut Rescue Goes Down

A helicopter pilot sent to rescue two Nunavut hunters stranded on the ice ended up having to get rescued as well.

The pilot of the Bell 206 Jet Ranger had been contracted by the Canadian military to rescue the two stranded seal hunters off the west shore of Hudson Bay this afternoon.

Initial reports suggested the helicopter had crashed with the rescued hunters on board. Military officials later said it was not, in fact, a crash.

“The chartered civilian helicopter, which was chartered from Gillam, Man., broke through the ice after landing on an ice floe to rescue two overdue stranded hunters," said Maj. Isabelle Robitaille, the senior public affairs officer for the military's 1 Canadian Air Division.

"It landed and then the ice broke and then it started to sink ... and then the hunters were on their way to the helicopter, and from our understanding, they helped pull him out of the helicopter, and then our search and rescue technician jumped in and provided assistance with stabilizing the person that had been in the water."

Robitaille said a second helicopter, which had already been on its way to help with the rescue, then picked up all three people — the two hunters and the pilot.

The three men are being treated for hypothermia in Arviat. The temperatures Wednesday in Arviat was near -50 C with the windchill.

Charlotte St. John's brother, Joe Karetak, who is in his 50s, and his 20-year-old son, are the two hunters who were stranded. They left home on a snowmobile Tuesday to go hunting, but didn't return.

St. John said it had been a "horrendous" day. "But I have a lot of family and friends and they have given us a lot of support. That’s the only way we have been surviving today."

Hilton Smee, the chief superintendent of the Nunavut RCMP, held a press conference in Iqaluit Wednesday.

“The helicopter apparently was contracted by the Canadian Forces rescue, or the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, to assist them in the rescue of these two persons on the floe ice,” said Smee.

A Canadian Forces Hercules aircraft was in the area and saw the incident. It immediately deployed two search and rescue technicians to help.

Rescue officials from Trenton, Ont., reported the chartered, privately owned helicopter was half on the ice, half in the water about eight kilometres southeast of Arviat, about 100 metres from where the hunters were.

Rescuers had attempted to get to the hunters by boat early this morning, but they were hampered by icy water.

“We’re happy that everyone managed to get out of this incident in good condition considering, and I think that at the end of the day the important fact is that everybody worked together," said Robitaille.

Nunavut RCMP say the Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.

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