'I thought we were dying': 3 friends fight to survive bitter cold after getting lost in Quebec mountains
Men from Montreal's South Shore built shelter in snow, eventually rescued by police helicopter
Jonathan Houle and his two friends, Dave Fall and Patrice Lontinville, endured a fraught and freezing night sleeping in a hastily-constructed show shelter after losing their way while snowmobiling on Boxing Day.
The trio was finally rescued by provincial police just before dawn the next morning.
The men set out on a snowmobile trek in Mount Gosford, near the Maine border, expecting to spend a pleasant afternoon and then return home to Montreal's South Shore that night.
Instead, the group got lost on the path looking for a hunting cabin and weren't able to find their way back to the main trail, Houle told CBC News.
"We couldn't go any further, it was getting colder and colder," he said.
"We had to make a camp to survive the night."
Houle estimated that it was about -40 with wind chill. He was treated for frost bite after they were located by the Sûreté du Québec.
"I thought we were dying," he said. "I thought somebody was going to find us dead."
They tried to call for help but reception was bad on the mountainside so it was difficult to get through to the police.
At one point, Houle said, when he finally was able to get a hold of the SQ, his phone died from the cold.
"I had to put it under my armpit," he said.
When he took his gloves off to use the touch screen on the phone, he couldn't feel his fingers after only a matter of seconds.
Unsure if anyone knew exactly where they were or would be able to find them before morning, the group spent the next four hours building a makeshift shelter,
They dug a hole several feet deep in the snow and used a large rock for one of the walls. They built a fire inside the shelter and covered the entrance with cut branches.
"My friends did fall asleep but I didn't because I didn't want the fire to die," Houle recalled.
In the early hours of the morning, Houle heard someone call out. He rushed out to find two SQ officers holding blankets.
"It was like a Christmas gift," said Houle. "Like an angel from heaven that's coming to get us."
He and his friends were taken to safety by helicopter and are still recovering from the ordeal.
Aurélie Guindon, a spokesperson for the SQ, said they had been alerted by relatives that the men were missing, but were unable to immediately reach them.
They initally tried to reach them with all-terrain vehicles, but then decided to deploy the helicopter.
Guinton said the extreme cold and location of the snowmobilers made the rescue a challenge.
"You have to understand it was a very particular environment," she said.
With files from Peter Tardif