Iqaluit hunter walked 3 hours barefoot on ice until help arrived

Iqaluit’s Joseph Monteith and Kelly Akpaleapik fell into the freezing water of Frobisher Bay along with their equipment. That’s when Akpaleapik lost his boots.

Joseph Monteith and Kelly Akpaleapik broke through the ice of Frobisher Bay

Meltwater is now accumulating on Frobisher Bay. The unpredictable ice conditions got the better of two hunters when their snowmobile and qamutik broke through the ice and sank. (submitted by Oleena Nowyook)

Iqaluit's Joseph Monteith and Kelly Akpaleapik had everything you need for a hunting excursion including a satellite phone and a SPOT device, but the unpredictable ice conditions on Frobisher Bay got the better of them when their snowmobile and qamutik, a traditional Inuit sled, broke through the ice and sank.

Both men fell into the freezing water along with their equipment. That's when Akpaleapik lost his boots.

"Your rubber boots can be very heavy if they fill with water," said Jimmy Akavak, chair of Iqaluit's search and rescue group. 

"Kelly kicked them off right after they went in the water and that made him get closer to his buddy Joseph who had gotten out of the ice first after some struggle."

Joseph Monteith and Kelly Akpaleapik, both in their 30s, were hunting about 50 down Frobisher Bay when they broke through the ice. (Google maps)
It was Monteith's quick thinking that saved his friend's life.

"Joseph did a great thing. He pulled his belt off his waist, and he was leaning or reaching towards the water so that he could throw it to Kelly who was still in the water struggling to get out," said Akavak.

Getting out of the frigid water was just the beginning of the men's ordeal. Akpaleapik had to walk about three hours barefoot on ice to safety.

"At times he couldn't walk anymore. His buddy Joseph pressured him, carried him, dragged him at times, to get to the island," said Akavak.

The men wanted to get to the island because the surface would be less freezing than the temperature of the ice. All in all they walked a distance close to two kilometres.

'A miracle they survived'

The island offered little protection from the elements. The land was barren with almost no plant life; it was blustery with a cold Northern wind, and the men were wet and cold all night without anything to protect them from the elements.

"It's basically a miracle they survived," said Akavak.

'It’s basically a miracle they survived,' Jimmy Akavak, chair of Iqaluit's search and rescue, said in Inuktitut. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
Rescue teams were able to use the data from the last signal sent from the men's SPOT device to track them down. As the rescue team circled the area they spotted a bright beam of light from the men's flashlight.

"When they reached them, Joseph was attending to Kelly trying to comfort him and warm him up," said Akavak.

Surprisingly Monteith was in good shape considering the circumstances. Akpaleapik was less lucky.

"He was unresponsive at times, going into shock, in and out, mumbling, going into shock and rolling his eyes," said Akavak.

A Twin Otter dropped a sleeping bag and a new satellite phone to the group, as the one with the rescue team had stopped working. Finally a helicopter arrived with a medic to collect the group.

By then, the men had spent more than 20 hours exposed to the elements.

Initially both men were taken to Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit for treatment, Akpaleapik was medevaced to Ottawa late last night for additional medical attention for hypothermia.

Dangerous ice

'Conditions out there are quite dangerous,' says Geetalook Kakee. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
Geetalook Kakee, an experienced Iqaluit hunter, is warning anyone going out on the land, especially younger hunters, to be vigilant about the changing ice.

"Conditions out there are quite dangerous," said Kakee in Inuktitut.

"It's not just the polynyas but also the lakes where people fish," added Kakee.

With files from Mike Salomonie