North

Nunavut hunter survives 4 days on the land with no food, plenty of polar bears

Robert Joamie has a harrowing story to tell after getting lost for four days out on the land near Pangnirtung earlier this month. Joamie only brought his gun, some bullets and a Pepsi with him to hunt caribou.

Robert Joamie only brought his gun, some bullets and a Pepsi with him to hunt caribou near Pangnirtung

'When it became dark, I tried to find a suitable shelter knowing I had seen three polar bears earlier in the day, so I was quite worried about the biggest one that might come and attack me,' says Robert Joamie, who survived four days on the land near Pangnirtung. (David Gunn/CBC)

A Nunavut man has a harrowing story to tell after getting lost for four days out on the land near Pangnirtung earlier this month.

Robert Joamie left on foot to go caribou hunting on a clear weekend afternoon, and had already seen several polar bears, when the weather quickly turned foggy. He got disoriented and lost.

He was following what he thought was the sound of shots being fired at a nearby family camp, but in fact was the echo of the shots in the mountains, so he headed in the wrong direction. 

"I had with me a gun, shells, no food, and a knife, and I also had a lighter. But I had dropped it so I had no fire starter to make fire with," he told CBC in Inuktitut.

He had only brought a Pepsi with him on the hunt.

After two days on the land, he said he fell to his knees from hunger, exhaustion and thirst. Where he fell there was a patch of edible mountain sorrel and he heard dripping. 

"I climbed uphill to try and find something to give me little bit of energy and found some edible plants and saw a little creek that I drank from."

I was quite worried about the biggest [bear] that might come and attack me.- Robert Joamie

When it started to get dark the fog got heavier, he fell backwards, close to the edge of a mountain. 

Joamie said his gun was hanging off the edge, and he has no idea how he didn't fall. His foot was stuck on a rock — what he says saved him — and he was able to pull himself away from the edge. 

"When it became dark, I tried to find a suitable shelter knowing I had seen three polar bears earlier in the day," he said.

"So I was quite worried about the biggest one that might come and attack me."

Watch Robert Joamie tell CBC Igalaaq about his night on the land:

 

He said he drifted in and out of sleep. 

"When I heard a movement nearby, all I thought of was the huge bear I had seen. But luckily it was just a fox," Joamie said.

"I survived the night."

Meanwhile, search and rescue teams were out looking for Joamie, who had headed to the top of a mountain so he might be seen.

He could hear the Hercules plane passing overheard. At first he was elated thinking he was safe, but it passed overhead. He counted that the plane flew over him six times. 

At one point, Joamie said he gave up and asked God to end his suffering, then passed out from exhaustion.

When he woke up, he laughed at himself and told God he'd changed his mind, he'd really like to be rescued. 

Joamie leaves the hospital in Iqaluit with his hunting gun in hand. (Submitted by Annie Joamie)

Eventually Civil Air Search and Rescue Association spotters in a Twin Otter spotted him. But Lucy Young, Joamie's maternal aunt, said the plane couldn't land on the mountain.

"So they sent a helicopter to pick him up and found him barely standing from walking too long. He had walked very far and up the mountain to be found," Young said in Inuktitut.

Searchers found him curled up with bad blisters on his feet. Young says their family broke into song when they heard he was OK.

Joamie, an actor who has starred in a Canadian Heritage minute and in a movie, was airlifted straight to Iqaluit for medical treatment. 

He still had his gun with him in the hospital — which he said was a first — and said the nurses and security staff were slightly startled. 

Joamie returned to Pangnirtung, with his gun, in good spirits earlier this week.

Written by Katherine Barton, with files from Madeleine Allakariallak, Sara Frizzell

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