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The Newfoundland sealers who got stranded on the ice for weeks

They were trapped in a dangerous situation, but they couldn't go anywhere to escape it.

Dangerous 1984 situation saw dozens stranded and 1 man die, as they waited to get out from the ice

Sealers stranded near Baie Verte

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1 year ago
2:20
In 1984, dozens of sealers ended up stranded on ships that were stuck in the ice near Baie Verte, N.L. 2:20

They were trapped in a dangerous situation, but they couldn't go anywhere to escape it.

Dozens of sealers had spent more than a month on board boats that had become trapped in ice near Baie Verte, N.L., in the spring of 1984.

Newfoundland had been dealing with major ice problems that year — including an ice storm and a massive ice build-up around various communities — and the stranded sealers were one more emergency that had to be dealt with.

"Some 50 men are trapped at sea and they don't dare abandon their boats because the boats could float off when the ice breaks up," the CBC's Barbara Yaffe reported on May 9, 1984.

One man had died as a result of a heart attack he'd suffered while trapped on the ice.

Living 'day to day'

Skipper Perry Burton said the stranded men had fresh hopes each day that they would be able to get out of the ice. (The National/CBC Archives)

Skipper Perry Burton described the mindset of the men who were waiting to get back to where they needed to be.

"You're just living hopes from day to day that maybe tomorrow is the day that you're going to get clear," he said. 

The sealers from two boats locked in ice near each other were hanging out together as they waited for better conditions. They had ship-to-shore radio, which allowed them to stay in communication, as well as a small TV that let them watch a bit of programming as the days passed.

But boredom was just one thing they had to manage out on the ice, as well as various dangers that included their dwindling water and food supplies.

Short on supplies

Norman Stuckless told The National that the stranded ships were running out of both food and water while they remained stranded on the ice. (The National/CBC Archives)

"We're going to be out of food," said Norman Stuckless, who was among the stranded crew members. "We're out of water now — most every boat here is out of water."

Helicopters had been able to drop some supplies to that point, including food and a pump to access water.

There were other dangers as well: At least one boat had sprung a leak during the month-long stay on the ice.

Help would eventually be on the way, but they had to survive until it arrived.

A long wait for help

In the spring of 1984, reporter Barbara Yaffe travelled to the site of the stranded ships to report on the situation. (The National/CBC Archives)

"Throughout their month-long ordeal the crew members, and their wives on shore, have been making appeals to the Coast Guard for help," said Yaffe.

"But this ice has been causing so many problems, all along Newfoundland's east coast, that an icebreaker just couldn't be freed up to clear a path for the boats."

The Canadian Press reported that all ships had been freed by May 16, a week after Yaffe's report aired on The National.

"The boats left port to hunt seals in early April but were still within sight of the shore when ice closed in on them," the wire service reported.

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