A woman and two young children are safe after spending a week stranded on a northern Saskatchewan highway, despite calling for help right away and reaching an RCMP operator.

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RCMP Chief Supt. Randy Beck says the Mounties will co-operate with an external review of a botched response to a call for help. ((CBC))

RCMP announced Friday that a special investigator would look into how the 911 call was handled.

The three, whose names and ages have not been released, were found following a ground and air search that was launched Thursday. They were taken to hospital in Shellbrook, Sask., for treatment and were reported to be in stable condition.

Another woman who had been travelling with the group was discovered dead on the same highway on April 12.

"I want to offer my sincere regrets to all involved," Chief Supt. Randy Beck, a senior Mountie in the province, said at a news conference Friday in Regina.

'A request for assistance was received and assistance wasn't actually received.' — RCMP Chief Supt. Randy Beck

Beck said the RCMP have asked the provincial Ministry of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing to assign a non-RCMP agency to investigate what happened.

"The RCMP will fully co-operate," he said.

At his news conference, Beck released limited additional information about the case.

He said the group had been travelling to Loon Lake on Saskatchewan Highway 942 when they somehow became stranded and one of them, the woman who died, left to try to get help.

He said that woman's body was found about 60 kilometres farther along the road on Monday, near the northern Saskatchewan community of Big River. An autopsy determined she had died from exposure.

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The community of Big River is about 230 kilometres north of Saskatoon. ((CBC))

Beck said that shortly after RCMP started to investigate her death, they learned that she had been with a group that was still unaccounted for. When that information came to light, he said, an extensive search was immediately launched.

According to Beck, an RCMP air searcher spotted the stranded vehicle about 7 p.m., local time Thursday, and RCMP on the ground reached the group about two hours later.

Beck also noted that the initial call to 911, which was made April 8, included a request for a tow truck. He said the person who took the call, a civilian member of the RCMP, called for a tow truck to go out and decided not to dispatch officers.

Beck said the tow truck did not reach the group and the communications centre did not follow up to see what had become of the motorists.

"The bottom line is a request for assistance was received and assistance wasn't actually received," he said.

Call for tow truck not unusual

Beck said it was not unusual for a 911 call centre to be asked for a tow truck, but declined to elaborate on what information may have been relayed in the call. However, he did say that the vehicle, when found, was partially submerged in water.

He did not elaborate on how that happened.

Beck said the communications centre handles about 250,000 calls for service a year and people should view it as a reliable "lifeline."

"Unfortunately, they can be subject to human error," he said.

"I would like to assure the public that we believe that the technology and processes of our dispatch systems work," he added. "But I acknowledge that in this instance, there appears to be a departure from regular procedures in handling of a call for assistance.  That is why I have asked for an independent review."

He said he and other senior RCMP managers have met with the families involved.