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Tuktoyaktuk man recovering from cancer performs daring ice rescue

Patrick Kuptana, who is recovering from lymph node cancer and can't eat solid food, went out on the harbour ice with a rope to save a woman who had fallen through on her snowmobile.

2nd ice rescue for Patrick Kuptana; was awarded medal of bravery in 1999 for similar incident

Patrick Kuptana, who is recovering from lymph node cancer and can't eat solid food, went out on the harbour ice with a rope to save a woman who had fallen through on her snowmobile. (Submitted by Terri Lee Kuptana)

A Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., cancer survivor saved a woman whose snowmobile went through the ice in the hamlet's harbour last week.

RCMP say the incident happened Friday in the harbour in front of the community's Northern Store, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean. The ice was weak, the detachment says, and collapsed underneath the machine. 

Patrick Kuptana was walking near the store when he saw the woman in distress.

"I said, 'Oh my God. Oh my God.' And I started running as fast as I could," he said.

He ran inside the store.

"I started yelling 'I need some rope and I need it right now,'" Kuptana told Wanda McLeod, host of CBC Radio's Northwind.

Holding the rope, his hands shaking, he ran to the beach. By the time he arrived on the scene, others had gathered on the shore and he gave them the rope. But they couldn't throw the lifeline far enough for the victim to reach.

"So I just told them I would make a noose, I would put it around my body," Kuptana said.

He went out to the woman, put the rope around her body, and told the people and the RCMP who had arrived on shore to pull her to safety. 

Kuptana is recovering from lymph node cancer. Radiation treatment destroyed his salivary glands, meaning he can't swallow solid food. Earlier this year, the federal government stopped paying for his nutritional supplement, but reinstated funding after his family's second appeal of the decision.

"My body's not 100 per cent," Kuptana said.

The woman was taken to the health centre with non-life threatening injuries. RCMP say her snowmobile was later recovered. 

It's the second time Kuptana has performed such a rescue in Tuktoyaktuk.

In 1998, a snowmobile carrying driver Darryl Gruben and his two-year-old brother went through ice 30 metres from the harbour shore. Patrick and his brother Roland Kuptana were the first people at the scene and both also fell through the ice into the water. Patrick Kuptana was able to pull himself out, crawl towards the victims and grab his brother's hand.

Gruben, though fully submerged himself, managed to hold the child's head above the water until Roland Kuptana was able to grab the boy, and the Kuptana brothers pulled the child to safety. Gruben disappeared under the surface and could not be saved.

The Governor General's medal for bravery was awarded to all three men in 1999.

Kuptana said Friday's incident has shaken him. He said people should talk to elders in the community before they head out on the ice because in many areas the waters aren't fully frozen.

"I just suggest to people to ask to make sure it is safe to go on there," he said.

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