RCMP attempt rescue in remote Manitoba

The RCMP sent a plane Friday to rescue about 12 people left stranded by thawed winter roads near the northern Manitoba community of Wrong Lake, but no one was there.

Several stranded by thawing winter roads

A 29-year-old truck driver was rescued Thursday by helicopter after RCMP located him on a road about 65 kilometres south of Oxford House. ((RCMP))
The RCMP sent a plane Friday to rescue about 12 people left stranded by thawed winter roads near the northern Manitoba community of Wrong Lake, but no one was there.

While there was evidence people had been at Thunderbird Lodge, a fishing resort near the lake, about 350 kilometres north of Winnipeg, no one was present, RCMP said, adding efforts are underway to locate them.

An attempt to reach the people on Thursday was foiled by bad weather, as blowing snow moved into the region, said RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish.

The people became stranded earlier this week when they tried to drive across a closed winter road. Mild temperatures for most of the past 10 days have thawed the winter roads, leaving them a muddy mess.

The RCMP were notified Thursday afternoon that the people, from the communities of Garden Hill First Nation and St. Theresa Point First Nation, were on their way home from Winnipeg but hadn't arrived.

They had made their way to Thunderbird Lodge where they found shelter, RCMP said.

Winter roads closed by province

Wrong Lake is part of the province's 2,200-kilometre winter road system to northern and remote communities.

The roads cross frozen muskeg, lakes, rivers and creeks to temporarily connect those regions with the rest of the province. The temporary ground transportation enables communities to stock up on a year's worth of supplies, such as food, fuel and construction materials.

A convoy of semi-trailer units hauling pre-fabricated homes was stalled after being mired in mud near the Lawford River crossing. ((RCMP))
A warmer-than-usual spring has deteriorated road conditions, prompting the provincial government to declare the road system closed as of 12:01 a.m. on March 16. That means the province won't cover any damages sustained by vehicles on the roads.

However, people have continued to use the roads because once they become impassable, most of the remote First Nations communities are accessible only by air.

"No one is supposed to be on the road but there are still a certain fragment of population and truckers that still go ahead and take the chance. And unfortunately, they are facing conditions they cannot deal with," said Karpish.

"Now they find themselves in a precarious position."

Truckers airlifted out of mud

Even further north, a trucker spent two days stuck in the wilderness before being rescued Thursday by RCMP from the Oxford House area, about 950 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

The man was returning from delivering groceries to Oxford House First Nation when he became bogged down. While he was prepared with plenty of supplies, he did not have any means of communication and there was no way to determine his location, RCMP said.

A helicopter had to be used on Monday to rescue a stranded trucker from mud on a formerly frozen road. ((RCMP))
A family member concerned for the driver's health contacted RCMP, who then chartered a helicopter to search for the missing man.

The 29-year-old driver was rescued "in good health, but a little shook up about the ordeal as he had been stuck for about two days," RCMP said.

He was returned to Oxford House, where he made arrangements to retrieve his truck and contact his family.

While on the patrol another disabled truck was located, RCMP said. Officers spoke with the driver and he asked that his company be contacted to help him continue with this journey.

The RCMP also used a chartered helicopter to rescue a 52-year-old trucker who had become stranded on the north side of Wrong Lake. The man had no food and feared for his life because he was a diabetic and needed his medication, according to RCMP.

He had made contact with his company on Sunday, which in turn phoned the RCMP.

'Bring gas, bring provisions, bring food'

Other truck drivers are also reportedly stranded, but are being rescued by their companies without the help of police.

Manitoba search-and-rescue teams are typically called out to rescue at least 30 drivers from winter roads every year, provincial search commander George Leonard said earlier this week.

He urged drivers to take precautions: "Bring gas, bring provisions, bring food, tell us when you're leaving and when you're supposed to be here, and if you're overdue, we'll come get you."

Manitoba's winter road network, which passes through boreal forest, has become treacherous as mild temperatures have turned it into muck. ((RCMP))
Yancy Wood spent five days sleeping in his truck as he was stranded on a muddy ice road north of Bloodvein First Nation. He finally made it home to St. Theresa Point First Nation Friday morning.

Wood got his truck out by placing tree branches under his wheels for traction.

"We were just driving slow, but the weight of the truck pulled it through — the momentum. If we had slowed down, we would have [been stuck again]."

Wood had enough food in his truck to keep him going for the five days.

Horace Weenusk was also breathing easier Friday after managing to haul a water truck from Winnipeg to Oxford House on a flatbed semi.

Part of the drive, from Norway House to Oxford House, usually takes six hours, but this time it took Weenusk 16 hours, going slow and getting stuck several times. It's not a trip he would make again this year, nor would he recommend others try it.

"[It's] too rough and dangerous conditions," he said.

Along the way, Weenusk saw one person fall through ice up to his waist, but the person got himself out.

He also saw some truckers who had been stuck and were being towed out — the drivers were on the road for days, running out of food.

A state of emergency has also been declared in 10 remote First Nations communities that are low on essential supplies because the trucks can't get through.

The declaration was made Thursday during a meeting of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), an organization representing most First Nations in the province's northern region.

The department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is working on plans with several remote communities to fly in supplies using Hercules aircraft and helicopters.