Montreal

Que. Inuit teens survive 4 days lost in tundra

A 15-year-old Inuit boy is recovering in a Montreal hospital and risks losing some of his toes from frostbite after he and a friend were lost on the tundra in northern Quebec for four days.

Friends separated after losing their way hunting for polar bears

Wille Nastapoka, 15, moments after being found 80 kilometres from his abandoned snowmobile in northern Quebec. ((Inuit Rangers photo))

A 15-year-old Inuit boy is recovering in a Montreal hospital and risks losing some of his toes from frostbite after he and a friend were lost on the tundra in northern Quebec for four days.

Isajah Nastapoka, who goes by the name of Wille, and 17-year-old Kasudluak Kasudluak, who was found in good shape, were separated while hunting for polar bears earlier this month near their village of Inukjuak.

They had few supplies, and it was –35 C.

Nastapoka and Kasudluak left Inukjuak on a snowmobile, but got lost. They travelled 30 kilometres before the snowmobile ran out of gas.

They had no food or water, and the temperature plummeted as night fell.

Wille Nastapoka recovers from frostbite in a Montreal hospital. ((CBC))

Nastapoka's mother, Martha, said she telephoned for help.

"I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I was worried. Scared … you can freeze easily your hands and feet, and nose and ears in a matter of minutes if you're exposed to the wind," she said.

Dr. François Prévost, who works at the Inukjuak dispensary and co-ordinated the search, said he kept in radio contact as local Inuit rangers fanned out on snowmobiles.

"After three days, I have to say my worries for them were very high. I thought maybe the cold had taken them. The chances to survive in those situations are extremely low," said Prévost.

But a bush pilot spotted their abandoned snowmobile and searchers followed the tracks. They found the boys had tried to walk to find help and became separated.

Prévost soon heard an excited voice on the radio.

"The team was always talking to each other, and then suddenly we hear that voice, saying, 'We found them, we found one!'" said Prévost.

When they found Nastapoka four days after he went missing, he had walked 80 kilometres south.

Suffering from hypothermia, he had taken off his jacket and was lying down in a hole he had dug in the snow.

Nastapoka was flown to a hospital, where he saw his mother, who was overcome with emotion.

"I was crying, sobbing and thanking everyone, and thanking God … I couldn't talk. I was too happy, we were all crying and screaming, and thanking every one," she said.

Kasudluak was later found still walking, having faced his own ordeal. He said at one point, he fought off a pack of wolves, shooting one.

The hole Wille Nastapoka had dug himself in the snow to hide from the wind. ((Inuit Rangers photo))

Nastapoka was airlifted to Montreal, where doctors are trying to save as much as they can of his blackened, frostbitten toes.

The soft-spoken teen had little to say about his ordeal, but remembered how it felt.

"Scared, a little bit," he said.

With files from Justin Hayward and Dan Halton

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