Tourists, hunters near Arctic Bay get chopper rescue

Twenty tourists with an adventure group who were stranded on an ice floe drifting in Admiralty Inlet are now safely back in Arctic Bay, Nunavut. Local hunters who had been stranded have also been brought back to the community.

Military helicopters pick them up Wednesday afternoon

Some of the rescued hunters and tourists walk away from a military helicopter in Arctic Bay, Nunavut. (Niore Iqalukjuak)

Twenty tourists who were stranded on an ice floe drifting in Admiralty Inlet near Arctic Bay, Nunavut, are now back in the community after being rescued by military helicopters.

A group of 11 local hunters who had been stranded were also brought back to the community. There are no reports of any injuries.

Two Griffon helicopters were used to ferry the tourists and the hunters to Arctic Bay. The first group arrived in the community shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The tourists, with the adventure group Arctic Kingdom, got stuck Tuesday after a large floe broke away, but rescue officials told CBC that the 20 walked back to shore after ice shifted and moved back toward land.

The group of hunters had also been stranded on another floe near the tourists. They made it back to land Tuesday about 4 p.m. local time. The hunters crossed over onto land after the floe split and the section they were on floated close to shore.

A tourist from Boston said she was happy to be back on land after being stranded for almost two days. Grace Liau said it had been a scary experience.

"The weather was really bad, it was snowing, it was raining, strong winds and you know, big puddles forming all around us. So we were getting very, very nervous and we were afraid of the cracks. And we were afraid that our camp was going to break up into ice," said Liau.

Liau said she could see the landscape changing as they were drifting on the ice floe. At one point, she said, their guides made a makeshift airstrip using jerry cans as markers. But the Twin Otter plane could not land because the ice floe was moving.

One of the largest rescue missions in Nunavut

Canadian Forces had dropped off emergency supplies to the tourists Tuesday after a Hercules aircraft from Winnipeg arrived at the scene.

Arctic Kingdom said the tourists were well taken care of while they were stranded.

"We provide all sorts of equipment and most people will come back appreciative that they have had experts, the people, the elders and the youth from the community that have looked after them well," said spokesperson Graham Dickson with Arctic Kingdom.

Both the military and the RCMP say this has been one of the largest rescue missions to date in Nunavut.

"Because there were not only local people, there were people from other parts of Canada as well as international people," said RCMP Cpl. Yvonne Niego.

"It's quite involving with different embassies and making sure all of the families are kept informed about what's going on."

Local hunters said it is not normal for the ice to break up this early in the year. They said the recent ‘super moon’ caused high tides and strong currents.

Fog caused rescue delays

Helicopters waiting in Grise Fiord and in Resolute had not been able to reach the two groups earlier due to fog early this morning.  

Arctic Kingdom has been offering adventure trips in the High Arctic for more than a decade. Dickson said the trips are usually not this adventurous.

"This is the first time that a whole camp has actually drifted," he said.

"There's no doubt there will be some discussion afterward about things that could be done in the future to prevent or better manage it."

The group was halfway through a weeklong trip when the floe broke off and drifted away. Dickson said Arctic Kingdom had set up camp at the spot several weeks ago about 20 kilometres back from the floe edge. He said the hunters who became stranded were at the floe edge.

"It's local knowledge and advice that's the biggest way to stay safe, and we work with the hunters and trappers organizations in the communities where we go, and we take their advice and the advice of the guides on where to go, and when to leave," he said.

The tour group and the hunters will be flown back to Arctic Bay. From there, the tourists will fly home.