Iqaluit dog team plunges through thin ice, community responds

Jovan Simic got to see the generosity of the Iqaluit dog sledding community in action this week, after he and his team plunged through thin ice on a -35 C day.

'We got on to the river, I could see the ice was going to give away,' says Jovan Simic

Jovan Simic with his dog team. He had a close call this week when slush on the river caused his team to break through the ice. (Submitted by Jovan Simic)

Jovan Simic got to see the generosity of the Iqaluit dog sledding community in action this week, after he and his team plunged through thin ice on a -35 C day.  

He and his team were out for a run and coming up to the Sylvia Grinnell River.  

"I saw that something was different from the day before," Simic recalled.

"At that point, I guess it was too late... the dogs were already full tilt because going down to the river there's a bit of a downhill and the dogs get excited running downhill."

There was a heavy slush on the surface of the ice and a frozen layer on top.

"We got on to the river, I could see the ice was going to give away, the surface ice. The dogs went through, then as they managed to get out... the sled punched through a little bit and then I realized I would have to get off before it got a lot worse," Simic said.

"When I got off, I punched through into the water."

Fortunately the water was little more than waist deep, and Simic and his dogs managed to get to shore.

That's when he realized he left his SOS device in his backpack on the sled. He made the decision to go back out to get it.

"Trudging through slush and cold water and then punching through [again]. It felt like a swim because I was crawling on all fours to distribute [my] weight and then when I would punch through, both my arms and my legs would punch through."

He got back to shore again and used the device to text a couple of people.

"The boots were soaked with water, so they slowly started turning to ice blocks. I realized I would have to act faster," he said. In the frigid temperatures, he was in danger of exposure or frostbite.

Simic pushed the SOS button.

Quick and efficient response

Police, ambulance and members of the sled dog community started arriving.

"There was more and more help coming, it was amazing how fast the community came together and the word spread," Simic said.

Among those who responded was Louis-Philip Pothier, owner and president of Inukpak Outfitting. He said by the time he arrived, Simic and all of his dogs were safe.

Within about 30 minutes of the distress call going out, six others who work with dog teams were there.

"It was actually a good thing to see that," Pothier said.

"The emergency response was so quick and so efficient. It's not something we test for real very often, and it's not something that we want to test either, but we were all quite impressed by the quality and the speed of the response."

Full moon overflow

Pothier runs his dogs across the river on a regular basis.

"I was there the weekend before with my kids and family," he said.

"Right now the ice on the river is, in my opinion, totally safe."

He said the slush was likely caused by the overflow from the full moon causing higher-than-usual tides. The pressure pushes the water over the edges of the ice and the water mixing with the snow creates the problems.

It happens annually, but Pothier said it's the first time he has seen it this year.

"That was the probably the thickest slush I've seen within 15 years of running dogs across."

Simic said he is taking lessons from this experience.

"I guess I was enjoying myself too much and wasn't paying attention. And having done that route definitely more than 50 times, I didn't think too much."

He said he is grateful that the situation wasn't any worse.

"I didn't lose anything," he said.

"I spent a cozy night with a few dogs in the house, just all of us defrosting."