Gatineau police say two people have been released from hospital 24 hours after their dramatic rescue from a snowshoe trail where they and a pair of searchers spent Thursday night in subzero temperatures.
The incident began on Thursday afternoon shortly after lunch, when a man and a woman on snowshoes left a parking lot at the west end of Meech Lake in Gatineau Park, ignored a closed trail marker and got lost.
They then called for help and MRC des Collines police said two other people went into the woods to find them. When the showshoers were located, one of them — a 43-year-old man — was suffering from hypothermia and serious frostbite to his legs, so was unable to exit the park under his own power.
As it was too dark to launch a helicopter to extract the injured showshoer, all four people ended up in the park together overnight.
The rescue team was prepared with supplies and was able to light a fire and stabilize the ailing hiker until a full rescue could be executed, said Lawrence Conway who was team leader for the search.
"Their actions were in fact heroic given conditions," Conway added.
Temperatures in the park would have reached -10 C overnight but would have felt like -19 C with the wind chill.
From just before midnight on Thursday police, firefighters, a search and rescue team and the NCC were in the park trying to locate them.
4th person had to be airlifted out
Gatineau Park manager Renée Bellehumeur said NCC conservation officers were unable to reach the party because heavy snow and fallen tree branches made the the back trails inaccessible.
Police were called to assist the search and a crew of 15 volunteer search and rescue workers and firefighters worked for hours to find the party. They say deep snow was the biggest obstacle in the search.
The two rescuers and the woman, 32, were transported out of the woods Friday morning by snowmobile while the male snowshoer, who could not move his legs, had to be airlifted out of the location by helicopter. Both were admitted to hospital.
The National Capital Commission, which manages Gatineau Park, had earlier warned outdoor enthusiasts not to venture off the open trails because fallen branches had created hazardous conditions in some areas of park.
Quebec provincial police say there is no policy in place that would force victims to pay for their own rescue while the NCC is looking into whether or not it would issue fines in this case as the snowshoers ignored a closed trail warning.