British Columbia

B.C. hockey legend recovering after rescue

Renowned B.C. amateur hockey coach Ernie (Punch) McLean is recovering well following a good night's sleep, after once again cheating death, this time in the backcountry of B.C.

Renowned B.C. amateur hockey coach Ernie (Punch) McLean is recovering well following a good night's sleep, after cheating death again, this time in the backcountry of B.C.

"Well, today I'm pretty good," the legendary tough guy said Friday morning after finishing a breakfast of bacon and eggs at the home of Jim Reed, the helicopter pilot who spotted McLean walking out of the bush Thursday afternoon.

McLean, 77, told CBC Radio that after spending five nights and four days lost in the mountains in northern B.C. without food or supplies, he was not sure he could survive another night in the rain.

"You always think about it — is this where I end up?" said McLean, as he reflected on the ordeal.

Lost while prospecting for gold

McLean was reported missing after falling down a crevice and getting lost while prospecting for gold on Sunday near Turnagain Lake in the Dease Lake area, 500 kilometres southeast of Whitehorse.

The experienced bushman decided to try to walk out of the area, but the steep, forested gullies and mountains made it difficult for him to cover much ground.

Eventually, he reached a hilltop on Wednesday night where he could see floatplanes landing on nearby Turnagain Lake, so he struck off in that direction, walking for 12 hours on Thursday alone.

He was hoping someone would spot him before he had to spend another night alone — one more night he was not sure he could survive without shelter from the rain.

"The biggest problem I had was my legs were aching," he said.

"I didn't know they were searching for me until I'd hear the helicopter, and then I would be always on the wrong side of the trees so that they couldn't see me."

Spotted by friend

But McLean was spotted by his friend Reed, who was surveying the area at the north end of Turnagain Lake by helicopter with a search and rescue team from the Yukon. McLean had walked about five kilometres from where he originally went missing.

"He virtually found himself," said Reed. "He walked out of the bush and we happened to spot him…. As soon as I saw his black and white sweater, I knew it was Ernie."

"I got out of the helicopter, and he just threw his arms around me and didn't say too much. I think he was pretty much overwhelmed," said Reed.

Reed had feared his friend was dead, but once again, McLean proved he was a survivor.

"I didn't think he could have survived that long, especially with the first couple of nights being wet and cold, and he had no wet-weather clothes," said Reed.

Lucky once again

McLean was transported to the Stikine Health Centre in Dease Lake, where he was examined and released.

Reed credited McLean's legendary toughness, and a bit of luck, for his survival, noting McLean previously survived a plane crash in Saskatchewan, and walked out of the woods alive a few days later despite losing an eye and breaking several bones.

He's also survived car accidents, being run over by a bulldozer and being stranded on a frozen lake in freezing conditions for several days.

McLean didn't see any bears during his most recent ordeal, but he did have a few close encounters with some moose, Reed said.

When asked if he managed to find any gold during his trek, McLean said, "I'm not going to tell you if I did or I didn't."

McLean coached hockey at the major junior level for 16 years, taking the New Westminster Bruins to four Memorial Cup victories in the late 1970s. He also coached the Canadian junior hockey team at the 1978 world championships in Montreal, adding 16-year-old Wayne Gretzky to the team.