Divers recover body of Cree man north of Waskaganish

A search operation in northern Quebec has recovered the body of a Cree land user, just four kilometres away from the bush camp he was travelling to.

Philip Mettaweskum left for his camp on snowmobile on Thursday but never arrived

Dozens of searchers, including local police, public security and firefighters, along with officers and divers for the Sûreté du Québec carried out an air and ground search off the coast of James Bay north of Waskaganish after a Cree man went missing Thursday. (Roger Hester)

A search operation in northern Quebec has recovered the body of a Cree land user, just 4 kilometres away from the bush camp he was travelling to.

Philip Mettaweskum left Waskaganish by snowmobile last Thursday afternoon heading to his family's camp, located approximately 20 kilometres north of the community on the shore of James Bay, according to officials.

When he didn't arrive as expected, a search party was sent out Thursday evening to look for him, said Ryan Erless, director of community services for the community of more than 2,500, located 1,200 kilometres north of Montreal. 

"We could see his tracks and they were heading in many different directions," he said. 

His tracks ... were heading in many different directions.- Ryan Erless, Waskaganish director of community services

"Sometimes he would circle around and then sometimes he would go straight to the door of their camp. And then he would go off direction again," said Erless, adding there was blowing snow that day and reduced visibility. 

Philip Mettaweskum, pictured here out on James Bay, left to go to his camp, located some 20 kilometres north of Waskaganish in northern Que., on Thursday afternoon. His body was found on Sunday by SQ divers. (Jack Diamond Jr.)

Authorities believe Mettaweskum lost his bearings in the blowing snow and didn't realize he was heading out into the bay. Eventually, the search crew was unable to follow Mettaweskum's tracks any farther because the ice was too thin, said Erless.

"The ice conditions out in the bay were still not frozen. It is known that huge chunks of ice tear off and float away in another direction. It was dangerous," he said. 

The large-scale search continued Friday, involving dozens of searchers, including local fire personnel, public security and the Eeyou Eenou police officers. There was also an air search organized and a dive team with the Sûreté du Québec was called in. 

During an aerial search on Friday, some of Mettaweskum's belongings were found semi-submerged and frozen into the ice about a kilometre away from where his skidoo tracks disappeared. 

A dive team from the Sûreté du Québec was called in and a base camp was set up out on the ice, but on Sunday the conditions were still very dangerous, according to Erless. 

"We were afraid that while the [recovery] teams that were out there that the ice would break off ... and they would be drifting out," he said.

Mettaweskum's body was found Sunday near where some of his belongings were found. Authorities say the tragedy is a reminder to never travel alone. (Roger Hester)

Divers located Mettaweskum's body on Sunday in the same area where they found his belongings. 

Erless said it's an important reminder to not travel the territory alone.

"Anything can happen out in the wilderness," said Erless, adding that the community came together during the crisis.

"We're a very tight knit community. Everybody knows everybody and then the whole community is showing their support to the family," said Erless. 

"And they're showing their support to us as well with our search team and thanking us."

Funeral services will be held on Thursday in Waskaganish beginning at 11 a.m.