Arctic rescuer had equipment problems before death

A Quebec airman who died during a Nunavut rescue mission parachuted into waves three metres high and struggled with equipment failures, including a broken rope to a life-raft.

Quebec's Sgt. Janick Gilbert died after parachuting into rough, cold Nunavut waters

The investigator who reviewed the October death of a Quebec airman said it's too early to lay blame. 

Sgt. Janick Gilbert, 34, of Baie-Comeau, died outside the hamlet of Igloolik in October during a harrowing rescue operation.

Gilbert was not able to deploy his one-man life-raft after parachuting into rough and cold Arctic waters in an attempt to rescue a father and son stranded in a boat.

According to a preliminary report released by the Canadian Forces Wednesday, Gilbert and two other technicians parachuted 600 metres into waves which were three metres high with winds blowing at 50 km/h.

The team managed to save the Inuit whale hunter and his son who were stranded but Gilbert died during the operation. 

Sgt. Janick Gilbert, 34, of Baie-Comeau, Que., died in October during a rescue mission in Nunavut. (Canadian Forces)

According to the report, it had been almost 24 hours since a father and son had been stranded in stormy waters when searchers decided to send in a team by parachute.

One search and rescue airman made it to the six-man raft that had been dropped earlier and assisted the father and son.

Another dropped farther away and deployed his one-man raft when he realized he wouldn't be able to swim the distance.

The report states of the three men who parachuted, Gilbert landed the furthest away from the boat.

Maj. Bill Canham, the investigator in charge of reviewing what happened during the rescue on Oct. 27, said the rescuer would have normally deployed a one-man raft but it was no longer attached to his safety vest.

"The tether, where it's threaded or stitched to the life preserver, was ripped away," said Canham.

He said the raft is unlikely to have ripped away on impact, since it was deployed later.

He also said Gilbert's dry suit is being examined.

"We have some of our research people looking at the permeability of the fabric and the suitability of the seals," said Canham.

Gilbert was eventually found unresponsive, floating in the icy sea with his life preserver inflated. It appears he had activated a strobe light but his life-raft was missing. When the Canadian Forces found his body, the waves had grown to be 10 to 15 metres high.

The father and son were eventually rescued by a Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter from Gander, N.L., along with the two other search and rescue technicians who were in the water.

Canham said it's too early to say whether Gilbert's equipment made the difference between life and death.

He said the final report should be ready in October 2012.