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Search-and-rescue trainees in Lutsel K'e, N.W.T. help with real-life events

While the military's Operation Nunakput was happening, 3 real-life search and rescues were called in.

While Operation Nunakput 2016 was happening in the community, 3 real-life search and rescues were called in

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      Belinda Michel has been with the Canadian Rangers for 20 years, but her experience has never involved search-and-rescue training, let alone real-life searches, near her community of Lutsel K'e, N.W.T.

      But things can change. 

      This past week, the military's Operation Nunakput was in Lutsel K'e to help train people, including rangers, members of the RCMP and navy, as well as fisheries and wildlife officers. They learned how to seamlessly blend their skill sets together for a search and rescue in their region of the territory.

      Belinda Michel, who was one of about a dozen Canadian Rangers training in Lutsel K'e Friday, says she wasn't worried at first when the five boaters were reported overdue on Wednesday. Her nephew was on board and he knows the land well. But as the hours went by and they were overdue for nearly 72 hours, Michel started to worry. 'That's not like him,' she said. (Alyssa Mosher/CBC)

      The training included piecing together make-believe searches by finding debris or beacons in the water. They also learned to maneuver boats on Great Slave Lake, a much larger body of water than what they're used to on the Mackenzie River, where the annual training usually takes place. 

      And then there was an unexpected addition to the training: three real-life search and rescues.

      Michel says it was difficult to balance the challenges of the new training while being on standby for the real search and rescues. She was also a little distracted because her nephew was one of the people on the first boat that was reported overdue. 

      Four adults, including Michel's nephew, and a two-year-old were found on their boat near Ethan Island after running out of fuel on their way to Lutsel K'e. (Google)

      "I wasn't worried much because he's a bush person and I know how he is on the land," Michel said. "But... when it came to 72 hours [overdue], I said, 'This is not like him. What's going on?'"

      Michel's nephew and the rest of the people on board, including a two-year-old, were found.

      They may have been pretty hungry and thirsty after spending four nights on an island with little supplies, but no one was hurt.

      Turns out they had overpacked their 18-foot boat when they were heading from Yellowknife to Lutsel K'e last Sunday, and ran out of fuel about 40 kilometres before they reached the community. 

      Learning from each other

      This is the first time Chief Petty Officer Second Class Sean Lothian and Master Seaman Michael Gaudette have been to Lutsel K'e.

      They're with the Canadian Navy based in Halifax, and Lothian says not only is their involvement in Operation Nunakput beneficial for the rangers and other officers — who can learn different techniques from them — but they themselves benefit from the training on unfamiliar waters.

      Chief Petty Officer Second Class Sean Lothian says every body of water is different, which is why the training in Lutsel K'e was useful for him and his colleauge, Master Seaman Michael Gaudette, from the Canadian Navy. (Alyssa Mosher/CBC)

      "People say, 'Water is water,' but it's all different," Lothian said.

      Lothian and Gaudette, along with wildlife officer Christian Marcoux and fisheries officer Gerald Filatre, were part of the water crew for the real-life search and rescues that happened in the area. 

      Once the overdue boaters were spotted via Hercules aircraft, those on the water went to pick them up.

      "We were very fortunate to have lots of folks to deploy," said Mike Nixon, Brigadier General of JTFN, another organization that was involved in the searches.

      Operation Nunakput 2016 continues in Yellowknife starting Sunday, and then on to Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.

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