Stranded woman recalls week in Sask. bush

The Saskatchewan woman who spent seven days stranded on a remote logging road waiting for help that never came is praising the effort of her friend, who left to get help but perished from exposure.
This is the road the group was trying to reach. The terrain off the road is dense bush and sloughs, roughly carved by a network of logging roads. ((CBC))
The Saskatchewan woman who spent seven days stranded on a remote logging road waiting for help that never came recalls the last words of her cousin, who left to get help but perished from exposure.

"She turned around and said, 'I love you,'" Melissa Rabbitskin, 23, told CBC News about the last time she saw her cousin Kerry Canepotatoe, 19.

Rabbitskin added she never gave up hope that she, her son and a nephew would be found.

Melissa Rabbitskin, 23, says she used her sweaters to keep her son and nephew warm at night during a week-long ordeal stranded in the bush. ((CBC))
The group's ordeal, which is now the subject of an RCMP investigation being monitored by an officer from the Saskatoon Police Service, began April 8.

The four, including Canepotatoe, 19, had set out from Prince Albert for Loon Lake, but took a wrong turn and ended up lost on a confusing network of logging roads.

They accidentally drove into a slough and could not get out.

Rabbitskin said she knew they were in a difficult spot, and needed help. It was cold, dark and raining when she called 911.

"They told me to hold on, just kept on telling me to hold on," Rabbitskin said. "And I told the man that I had two kids in the car and I was stuck, and he just kept on telling me to hold on. And then my battery died."

RCMP have confirmed that Rabbitskin made three calls to 911 and, in one, had reached a person in their communications centre.

The actions of the RCMP in following up the 911 call are the subject of the investigation.

Rain turned to snow

Rabbitskin said the group spent a night in the vehicle and the next morning her cousin — Canepotatoe — decided to walk for help.

By then, the rain had turned to snow.

"She just said that she was going to get help," Rabbitskin said. "And then she turned around and said, 'I love you. And I'll be back for help.'"

Kerry Canepotatoe, 19, died of exposure after walking about 60 kilometres trying to get help for a group stranded in the bush. ((CBC))
For the next six days Rabbitskin stayed with the two young boys, her four-year-old son Jerome and a 10-year-old nephew named Cashton, in the car.

She gave the boys her sweaters for warmth. At night, they could hear the sounds of nearby wolves.

"The boys were getting hungry and I told them that she went to get some help," Rabbitskin said. "We're going to go home and we're going to eat."

Finally on Thursday evening, their seventh day in the bush, they heard the sound of large aircraft engines. About two hours later, a rescue team arrived.

"We were going to go to bed," she said, "and then all of a sudden we thought we heard two loud quads coming, and my nephew jumped up right away and he put his head out the window and said, 'Help us.'"

The group was rushed to hospital in Shellbrook, where Rabbitskin learned the fate of her cousin.

Canepotatoe's body was discovered on a highway near Big River, Sask., near the group's starting point for their trip. She was found on April 12.

RCMP said when they learned she was part of a group that was not accounted for, they launched an extensive air and ground search.