Search called off

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Despite a massive search operation that involved the Department of National Defence, the Sûreté du Québec and some 300 volunteers from Quebec and Ontario, two hunters from Waskaganish are still unaccounted for.

“We’re still hoping to find them even though the weather is not working with us right now,” said Waskaganish Community Services Director Ryan Erless. “We’ll be very alert, if we don’t find anything this winter we’ll still be alert in spring time.”

Despite the huge effort, the fates of Kenneth Salt, 67, and Gabriel Shecapio, 30, remain a mystery. They were with a party of four who set out on a goose-hunting trip on James Bay in mid-October. The bodies of Matthew Diamond, 43, and John Patrick Salt, 48, were found soon after the group went missing.

With the time that has elapsed since the men went missing and worsening weather conditions, Erless says that most of the outside help has been asked to head home.

“Search-and-rescue operations are being terminated now,” he said. “Some of us are still looking, but the federal and provincial help we had is gone and a lot of the volunteers have gone home too. It was a local decision, we had to call off the search because it was too dangerous. There’s too much ice on the river and on the shores to go out by boat.”

Erless noted that local Elders and the SQ are aware of a cycle that occurs when somebody drowns: the body may stay under water and surface after two to three days, then go back under and re-surface again after around 30 days. If the water is too cold or too deep, it may never surface again.

There are differing opinions on what may have caused the tragedy, Erless said.

“The boating accident that happened, I’m not sure if it could have been prevented,” he observed. “When they ventured out they were caught in a sudden windstorm with gusts over 50 km/h. All the weight that was on the boat – four people, their hunting gear, their food, I guess it was just too much.”

Erless extended his heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributed to the search. He stressed that they covered as much ground as possible despite dealing with stormy weather, fierce winds, high tides and choppy water.

“It’s a big area,” he said. “We searched over 1000 square kilometres by air, land and water.”

Erless specifically thanked those who travelled from Piawanuck, Moosonee, Moose Factory, Fort Albany, Kaschechewan, Attawapiskat, Whapmagoostui, Chisasibi, Wemindji, Eastmain, Nemaska, Mistissini and Waswanipi, noting that Oujé-Bougoumou would likely have been there too if they were not dealing with a tragedy of their own.

“We had over 300 volunteers who came and helped out, it’s surprising the number of people that showed up,” he said. “We’re going to produce a report on our side and hopefully we can contact a few people to disseminate it to the other communities.”

Erless hopes that all of Eeyou Istchee can learn from the experience and be better equipped to handle emergency situations in the future.

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