Manitoba's premier spent several hours lost in the dark in the remote New Mexico wilderness, but he did not break his arm until minutes before his rescue, according to new information provided on Monday by New Mexico State Police.
Brian Pallister was hiking alone on the Mogollon Trail in the Gila Wilderness last week without a light or cellphone, Lt. Elizabeth Armijo, a spokesperson for the state police, told CBC News.
Esther Pallister called 911 at 6 p.m. to report him missing, Armijo said.
"The call went out around 6 p.m. and it took about an hour. The officers drove out to the area, which is up in the national forest, and were responding to [Esther Pallister] around 7 p.m. and Mr. Pallister was located around 9 p.m." Armijo said.
The sun had set more than a half hour before Esther Pallister reported him missing.
Pallister was injured when he fell into a ravine after an officer heard the premier's call for help, Armijo said.
"The officer was calling out to him and trying to locate him and walking in to him, and at that point was actually when Mr. Pallister fell into the ravine and was injured," she said.
He suffered compound fractures in his left arm, along with numerous cuts and bruises. He was hospitalized that night and returned to Manitoba on Friday.
'A really treacherous area'
When an officer finally heard Pallister's call for help, he was no longer on the trail, but was going in the right direction, Armijo said.
"At that point it was dark outside and it was a really treacherous area, very mountainous, very rugged, very steep. Unfortunately Mr. Pallister did not have a flashlight or any light on him," she said.
"What would have helped was for Mr. Pallister to have had some lighting."
'Long story short'
The new information sheds further light on the rescue after the government first announced the premier's injuries on Friday. On Saturday, the premier and his wife released a video on social media in which they were interviewed about their experience by a staffer.
Pallister offered few details about what caused the fall or about his rescue.
"I got lost in a wilderness hiking trip, after a fall, ran out of light. Long story short, I have an enhanced respect for nature," he said in the video after being asked what happened.
He went on to say that his wife played a pivotal role in his rescue,
"Esther was great," he said. "The policeman that helped us, that finally that came to the trailhead — I could hear a siren which is a great sound after 10 hours plus of not knowing if anyone was around, to hear that siren was great — was praising Esther, just saying she was really concise in her directions. She knew where you probably were going to be, what you would not do. She knew your hiking habits, and that really helped narrow down the search. That was awesome."
The accident occurred while Pallister was on vacation in New Mexico during the break between legislative sessions last week.
NDP bash Pallister for not using cell
The New Democrats say Pallister's wilderness hike and subsequent fall have brought up questions — including why the premier was on vacation the week before the throne speech and whether his communication with Manitobans was adequate.
"The one week we were able to be back talking to Manitobans, consulting with Manitobans, hearing from Manitobans, we are now hearing the premier took off to a remote part of New Mexico," said NDP MLA Andrew Swan.
Swan said he wishes the premier has a "speedy and smooth" recovery and appreciates that it was a difficult time for him and his family.
But, Swan said, people deserve to know whether the premier is using a government cellphone, particularly after new protocols came into place, and why it took days for Manitobans to learn that Pallister had been seriously injured.
"There's only been one conduit for this information coming out — the premier's staff — and we still can't get a clear story. It just seems unusual," Swan said.
He also questioned whether Deputy Premier Heather Stefanson was acting as premier in Pallister's absence.
"The premier is allowed to go on vacation. But when something like this happens you would expect there would be more effective communication with Manitobans so they could know how the premier is doing," Swan said.
Swan wondered how much time Pallister has been on vacation. Pallister has faced questions throughout his time as premier about how much time he spends on vacation, particularly at his home in Costa Rica, and how he communicates with staff while away.
Swan said he understands the joys of hiking, but said he "would usually hike with friends."
"And I would usually take a cellphone with me," he said.
Tories defend premier's vacation time
In response to Swan's criticism, the premier's communications director argued the "tone and substance" of the throne speech was completed before Pallister went on vacation. He also noted that the premier had his government cellphone with him on vacation, just not on him during the hike.
"He was able to be in contact with staff if need be. Obviously, the need arose after his accident," wrote Chisholm Pothier.
"Cellphone reception in Gila National Park is spotty at best and hikers in this area are warned against relying on a cell phone to get one out of trouble during a hike."
"Although Mr. Swan is not a big user of social media, he should be aware that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been around for more than 10 years and are used by most elected officials. With the Premier under doctor's orders to rest and recover at home, a quick video update posted to social media was the most effective of providing accurate and timely information to Manitobans."