'I just want to take them home': Search continues for fishermen missing on Great Slave Lake

The official search for four fishermen missing for more than a week on Great Slave Lake has been all but officially called off, but family and friends are not giving up.

Sisters have been part of search since last week, say community support has been a saving grace

Michael and Daniel Courtoreille in an undated Facebook photo. The men are two of four fisherman who have been missing on Great Slave Lake for more than a week. (Submitted by Rosemarie Courtoreille/Facebook)

The search for four men who went fishing on Great Slave Lake little more than a week ago, and never returned, has been all but officially called off.

But family and friends of the missing men, as well as a large cohort of community volunteers, continue to search in hope of a miracle, or at least for closure.

Missing are Stacy Linington, 59, from Hay River, N.W.T., along with Daniel Courtoreille, 51, Michael Courtoreille, 50, and Jason Fulton, 40, all from the Lesser Slave Lake area of central Alberta.

The search now is focused on shoreline areas where the men may have found shelter.

"I don't want to leave without taking them home," said Rosemarie Courtoreille. "I want to take my brothers home. All four fishermen — I just want to take them home."

Rosemarie Courtoreille says the support from the community of Hay River has brought her peace and comfort. (Rosemarie Courtoreille/Facebook)

Rosemarie and her sister Marlene Auger arrived in Hay River last week from Edmonton and Faust, Alta., respectively, along with their three other sisters. Daniel and Michael Courtoreille are their brothers, and Jason Fulton is their cousin. 

The men never returned to Hay River after heading out onto Great Slave Lake to check their nets on Sunday, Sept. 29. They were expected back that evening and were reported missing the next morning.

After an extensive search involving several agencies, police last Thursday said it was unlikely anyone could have survived. On Friday, the search was classified a recovery effort. Police announced on Monday that the recovery effort had been further scaled back.

The sisters say they know a search may not end with finding survivors, but even finding the bodies of the men would bring some relief.

'No strangers' to the lake

"My brothers were hard-working men," Marlene said. "They grew up fishing. It's been passed down from generation to generation in my family. They were no strangers to going out on the lake."

Marlene and Rosemarie said their brothers and cousin were generous men — not only were they always ready to help anyone who asked, but they often looked for ways to help even before being asked.

The men considered Hay River their second home. Rosemarie said they often spoke of the community that way — especially Michael, who had been going there for at least 20 years.

"This was his home," she said. "He always said to me, 'You'll feel welcome [here]."

Rosemarie said since she arrived in Hay River, her brother's words have been proven true.

"The situation breaks my heart, but the love and support … the community and the people within the community are bringing, [it] brings me peace and comfort in the midst of all of this," she said.

Marlene Auger with members of a search party in the background. (Marlene Auger/Facebook)

Volunteers continue to search shoreline

Marlene said she wished officials had started a ground search earlier.

"There was no ground search until my family started," she said. "And they've been doing it every day they could go out."

She said that by Monday conditions had deteriorated, preventing a ground search.

"But we're not gonna give up," she said. "We've got lots of resources — family, community members — quads and side-by-sides, and they're taking us out there."

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the RCMP said the shoreline between Hay River and Yellowknife had been searched "from an air and marine perspective," and that cabins and islands on southern shorelines had been searched by partner agencies.

Marlene reiterated her sister's description of the support they have received from people in Hay River, and especially from the nearby K'atl'odeeche First Nation.

"It touches my heart," she said. "I can't believe the outpour of support from Hay River [and] surrounding communities.

"It just leaves me speechless."

Written by Walter Strong, with files from Alyssa Mosher