71-Year-Old Priest Lost in -43 C Storm
A 71-year-old priest, Moses Kakekaspan, lost his way on a long journey home from a pastoral visit on his snowmobile. He ran out of fuel in a -43 C winter storm. Kakekaspan is the priest at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Fort Severn, which is in a remote First Nation’s community.
He went missing on Tuesday night after everything that could possibly go wrong did. The headlight on his snowmobile burnt out, his satellite phone stopped working and then he ran out of fuel. During his ordeal, he was fortunate enough to only suffer mild hypothermia.
Sgt Matthew Gull, the commander of the Peawanuck patrol of the Canadian Rangers, which is largely an aboriginal Canadian Forces reserve unit, co-ordinated the local search. He also said, “It is a very beautiful country out there, but it is very unforgiving,”.
Kakekaspan had been on a pastoral visit to the community of Kaschechewan and he flew back into Peawanuck, the closest airport to Fort Severn, on Tuesday before he was to begin his journey home that afternoon.
“When he got off the plane he was pretty keen on going back right away to Fort Severn,” said Gull.
The trip back to Fort Severn is about 186km, Kakekaspan left for the long journey home at about 4 pm and he told Rangers that he expected to be home around 10 pm.
However, the temperatures dropped to -43 C, with a wind chill. The snow also began to fall along his path through the Polar Bear Provincial Park, near the coast of Hudson Bay.
By 10:30 pm the Rangers in Peawanuck checked in with the Rangers at Fort Severn to see if Kakekaspan had arrived. They also checked in with his wife Thelma to see if he had arrived, and she confirmed that he had not.
An hour later, Kakekaspan was still unaccounted for and so a search was launched in conjunction with the Ontario Provincial Police. Two Rangers set out southeast of Fort Severn during the night. About halfway they found Kakekaspan’s tracks and they followed them, alternating between snowmobile tracks and footprints. They said that they could tell that he had been searching for a path, but his path had been covered by a foot of snow.
“He was trying to feel for his tracks beneath the snow, where the snow would be packed hard. He kept pulling over on his snow machine, walking back and forth trying to feel for his tracks but couldn’t find them.”
The tracks suggested that Kakekaspan had eventually given up and turned back towards Peawanuck. Gull then sent out two more rangers northwest from Peawanuck to aid in the search.
Rangers Maurice Mack and Aaron Isaac found Kakekaspan walking 20km north of Peawanuck around 7 am.
“He’d been walking for the last two hours after his snowmobile ran out of fuel,” said Gull, who visited Kakekaspan at the nurse’s station in Peawanuck after his rescue.
“He said the road was fine when he left Peawanuck but it wasn’t until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. when he started missing the trail. It didn’t help his headlight burned out. Hence why he was walking around trying to feel for his track beneath the snow.
“He said he had difficulty finding his trail and he kept feeling disoriented fatigue and hypothermia.”
Kakekaspan said that he ran out of petrol around 7 am and then he continued on foot.
“He is a well-known and respected pastor, a highly respected community elder along the coast. He was dressed appropriately but didn’t have a tent or stove. His sat phone wouldn’t work,” said Gull.
“He was tired. You could tell he was fatigued and you could tell he had hypothermia but he was still in good spirits. He didn’t want to go to the nurse’s station he wanted to go to a friend’s house to rest and warm up.”
Kakekaspan was released late on Wednesday and he was escorted back to Fort Severn by the Rangers who had been searching for him; Sgt Mary Miles and Ranger Sinclair Childforever. Childforever is one of the many foster children that stayed with Moses Kakekaspan and his wife Thelma over the years.
OPP Sgt Jamie Sterling, the provincial search and rescue co-ordinator, said that Kakekaspan was found by rangers just as the police search and rescue airplane was taking off from Thunder Bay. This plane is equipped with infrared thermal image equipment.
Air support to that region is at least 6 to 8 hours away, at best, so making an immediate ground search is essential for the survival of anyone. Over the Christmas holidays, the OPP and rangers conducted four northern search and rescue missions. They saved two lives.
“The environment in the north is far more harsh and robust. Things we take for granted in southern Ontario you can’t in the north,” said Stirling.