A Canadian Forces sergeant involved in an effort to rescue two boaters in stormy seas outside the Nunavut hamlet of Igloolik on Thursday has died.
Sgt. Janick Gilbert, 34, of Baie-Comeau, Que., was a search and rescue (SAR) technician with 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron in Trenton, Ont.
Three people — Gilbert and two other search and rescue technicians — jumped into the Hecla Strait from a Hercules aircraft with a life-raft around 5 p.m. ET Thursday.
They were there to help Igloolik hunter David Aqqiaruq and his son, who had left the community by boat Wednesday to go walrus hunting, but they reportedly had engine problems and called for help. Local searchers had trouble reaching them because of the icy, rough sea.
The boaters were transferred to the life-raft, and all five men waited for about three hours until a Cormorant helicopter from Gander, N.L., arrived to pick everyone up.
The military said Gilbert died sometime during the rescue last night but exact details are still unclear. The two boaters and two of the rescuers were taken safely to Igloolik.
Celestino Uyaraq of Igloolik's search and rescue group said people in the hamlet are saddened by what happened.
"The whole community is touched by this, and I’ve received calls that if we could only see their family members, just to be around them, to support them."
Louis Tapardjuk, MLA for Amittuq, which includes the hamlets of Hall Beach and Igloolik, acknowledged the death in Nunavut’s legislative assembly.
He said it's clear everyone involved worked very hard because life is so precious, and that the people of Nunavut are grateful for the work of search and rescue technicians.
In a statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the Canadian Forces' search-and-rescue technicians "some of the best trained in the world."
"Canada's landscape is one of the most challenging in the world in which to conduct search-and-rescue operations, and the area in which search-and-rescue professionals work is the largest in the world — it extends over 15 million square kilometres of land and sea and encompasses the world's longest coastline.
"Sgt. Gilbert was an extremely brave Canadian who made the ultimate sacrifice while proudly serving his country."
The military says the incident is under investigation.