Manitoba

'Relief for the families': Chief confirms 2nd body found during search for ​Sagkeeng snowmobilers

Members of a Manitoba First Nation cried and hugged volunteer members of a dive team Thursday after a second body was pulled from the icy waters of the Winnipeg River, about six weeks after two snowmobilers from the community went missing.

Bodies of man, woman recovered as search for snowmobilers missing since November wraps up, chief says

Volunteers search below the icy surface of the Winnipeg River in Sagkeeng First Nation Thursday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Members of a Manitoba First Nation cried and hugged volunteer members of a dive team Thursday after a second body was pulled from icy river waters, about six weeks after two snowmobilers went missing from the community.

"It's relief for the family," said Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson.

He confirmed a second body, that of a woman, was recovered from a stretch of the frozen Winnipeg River Thursday at about 3:30 p.m.

The finding comes after members of the Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team (HEART) located the body of a man on Wednesday afternoon, Henderson said.

A man and a woman from the community disappeared while snowmobiling on Nov. 20.

RCMP and Henderson have not confirmed whether the bodies are those of the two missing snowmobilers, but Henderson said he is "99.9 per cent" sure it's them, as there aren't any other people reported missing from the community.

Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson said members of HEART and Tom Crossman helped bring closure to the community. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Henderson has notified both families that two bodies were recovered from the river.

"It's closure for them now, so everything is good. They're very happy that we were able to recover the body."

Family visited the area as RCMP were on scene to recover the body, Henderson added.

Henderson said he and the families are grateful for the efforts of members of HEART and Minnesota-based underwater search volunteer Tom Crossman. He pitched in with his $100,000-remote operated vehicle (ROV) and underwater camera. 

Tom Crossman operates the underwater camera during Thursday's search for a missing snowmobiler at Sagkeeng First Nation. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The team was originally planning on wrapping up the search Wednesday. When they found one body they decided to stick around for one more day, and Henderson said that made all the difference.

"If they would've left last night, the body would still be in the river," said Henderson. "They have to be thanked a million times over. All the community members were hugging them and in tears."

The HEART team used a sonar and and Crossman's ROV to search the stretch of the river near the community, which is about 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Manuel Maendel holds up the remote operated machine and camera while on the ice of the Winnipeg River Thursday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

They found a submerged snowmobile over the weekend in an area where the snowmobilers were believed to have been the night they went missing. The bodies were found nearby on Wednesday and Thursday.

"It's a tremendous relief for us and just builds your faith in prayer," said Paul Maendel, who founded HEART in 2006 with his brother Manuel Maendel.

"I feel a tremendous peace over this situation and we can move on now."

Manuel Maendel lowers the underwater camera down through a hole in the ice on the Winnipeg River. (Supplied by Paul Mendael)

With two recoveries completed, the brothers said it's clear how invaluable it would be to have their own ROV unit.

The team hopes the successful search brings in donations they need to buy their own ROV for future Manitoba searches.

"It's a game-changer for us to be able to do such a vast search in the winter," said Paul Mendael. "It saves us diving and searching." 

In two days, members of a volunteer dive team helped find two bodies in the icy Winnipeg River during a search for two missing ​Sagkeeng First Nation snowmobilers. 3:04

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Sean Kavanagh