FROM THE NATIONAL POST
Larissa Liepins, CanWest News Service
Published: Friday, November 16, 2007
When the seal fat for the fire ran out, they'd been sleeping for five nights in an igloo in the middle of a trackless Arctic waste.
With a broken-down snowmobile and their cache of fish running out, Laimiki Innuarak, 63, decided he had no choice left -- he had to walk until he reached a settlement, or he, his wife Rachel Aglak, and their adopted four-year-old son Noah Jonah Aglak would die in the freezing polar dark.
While little Noah and his mother wept and worried in the igloo Innuarak had made for them, the man finally set out on foot Thursday morning at 7:30. He walked for the next 10 hours.
It was really hard for me," Mr. Innuarak said Friday from his sister's home in Igloolik -- a small island between Baffin Island and the Melville Peninsula about 2,300 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
"It was really cold, and all I had with me was a knife and a stick. I couldn't stop thinking about my wife and child I'd left behind."
Because he and his wife only speak the Inuit language of Inuktitut, the couple related their story through a translator.
"NJ and I were crying," Ms. Aglak said, recalling the fearful hours she spent waiting with her son Noah Jonah in the igloo.
"I was so afraid there'd be nobody looking for us."
At 5:30 Thursday evening, Mr. Innuarak was spotted just outside Igloolik.
Using Mr. Innuarak's directions, another team of rescuers headed out to find Aglak and her son, who were quickly losing hope in the dark, cold igloo.
But when they were checked out at a health centre in Igloolik, all three were fine. They didn't even have frostbite.
Their journey began Saturday night, when the three packed up their snowmobile with a couple of knives, five Arctic char and some seal fat. They set out from their home in Hall Beach, Nunavut, expected to arrive in Igloolik within two and a half hours -- a distance of about 80 kilometres across fields of ice.
Their trouble began when they had to made a detour overland because warmer temperatures had made the ice soft.
Right around the time the engine on their snowmobile konked out, a blizzard blew in.
"I thought I'd arrive at Igloolik nice and quickly, so I didn't even bring my rifle with me," said Mr. Innuarak, an experienced hunter and fisher.
"Luckily, I had my knives, including my snow knife. But it took me four hours to build an igloo in that blizzard," he recalled.
Once Mr. Innuarak had their igloo built, the family started a fire with the seal fat and ate one of the five fish they'd brought with them.
It would be the only food they'd eat for the next five days.
Four days later, Mr. Innuarak built a second, larger igloo.
With the temperature outside dipping at one point to -38C with the windchill, they began to feel afraid.
"We had run out of seal fat, and knew it would be too cold to spend another night in the igloo without heat," Mr. Innuarak said.
"That's when I decided to try to walk to Igloolik."
The morning he left, little NJ woke up and told his parents about his dream.
"He dreamt that a very beautiful snowmobile was coming to get us," Ms. Aglak said.
After all three were picked up and reunited, they found out they'd been the subjects of a massive land and air search. Volunteers had been scouring the region on snowmobiles and a military Hercules flew for 20 hours trying to spot them from the air.
One moment the family won't forget happened Saturday before their snowmobile broke down.
"We were driving, when we saw a polar bear about 90 metres, right in front of us," Mr. Innuarak recalled.
"It stood up on its hind legs. We kept going, then after a little while, it ran off."
For the Record Book
3 days ago