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Three hunters were camping under tarps on an ice floe when RCMP officers came to the rescue by helicopter on Wednesday. ((Submitted by Const. Neil Logan))

Three polar bear hunters stranded on an ice floe near Paulatuk, N.W.T., on Wednesday were rescued quickly because one of them had brought a global positioning system device, RCMP say.

American sport hunter Brian Trapnell and two local men became trapped Tuesday night on a drifting ice pan, about 130 kilometres east of the Arctic community, as temperatures hovered around –25 C.

RCMP officers aboard two private helicopters rescued the men Wednesday morning, after Trapnell activated his SPOT satellite GPS locator.

Trapnell, along with guides George Krengnektak and Yuichiro Koniya of Paulatuk, were treated for minor hypothermia at the local health centre.

"Long night on the ice — it was cold, it was a bit windy, but we kept everyone dry with a stove," Trapnell told CBC News on Thursday from Inuvik, N.W.T., as he prepared to fly home to Utah.

Trapnell described Krengnektak, his hunting guide, as "a very safe man," adding that "he knew what to do and took care of the situation in the utmost professional manner."

Surrounded by open water

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The hunters were found Wednesday on an ice floe about 130 kilometres east of Paulatuk, N.W.T., a hamlet nearly 900 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife. ((CBC))

Describing the scene when RCMP found the hunters around sunrise Wednesday, Paulatuk Const. Neil Logan said he saw open water next to the tarps where the men had camped.

"They were kind of like on an ice pan that was separated away from the land, and that's why they couldn't get back onto the land to get back to their camp," Logan said.

Police say the hunters were stranded for about six hours, during which time Koniya and Trapnell briefly ended up in the frigid water. Koniya fell through the ice, and Trapnell got him out.

Trapnell said a sled that was attached to one of their snowmobiles also fell into the water, soaking and freezing the equipment inside.

"I helped to get him out, and George, the guide, took care of the snowmobiles and got everything away safely," Trapnell said. "Then we quickly set up a tent and got dry.

"It was a little bit cold, but at no time did I feel I was in any severe danger, other than the man that was wet — that was a little bit worrisome."

Group found quickly

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Brian Trapnell, at the airport in Inuvik, N.W.T., holds up the SPOT GPS locator beacon he used to notify police. ((Philippe Morin/CBC))

Trapnell said that around 1:45 a.m. MT Wednesday, he used his GPS locator to contact the RCMP.

Without that device, the men would not have been found as quickly, said Cpl. Damon Werrell, who co-ordinated the rescue from Paulatuk.

"They just push a button and if they're in trouble and it automatically sends their GPS co-ordinates to their dispatch centre, and then we're able to follow up on that," he said.

"The helicopters left Paulatuk, they went straight to where the party was, and they were able to locate them within half an hour."

Adding to the men's luck was the fact two geological survey companies working in the area lent the RCMP the helicopters to help with the rescue.

"It's nice to know that we can all come together and do the job and get it done," Werrell said.

In the end, Trapnell did not get his polar bear — the group did see one, but it was too young to hunt — but this didn't damper the sport hunter's enthusiasm after the northern trip.

"I was successful in getting a muskox and we're able to bring that back," he said. "As a matter of fact, it's going to be displayed in a museum in the United States."

Even if Trapnell had killed a polar bear, U.S. regulations would have prohibited him from taking the pelt home. The U.S. considers polar bears a threatened species.

"If I would have been successful in getting a polar bear, not being able to bring it back was never a concern to me," Trapnell said. "I was more interested in the experience and the memory than the polar bear itself."