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Widow finds husband's body in river 10 months after he vanished

It took Ann Wolki 10 months to find her husband's body in the Hornaday River, but she never gave up — something she said the RCMP did a day after he went missing.

Upset with lack of outside help, widow calls for change in response to missing people from Paulatuk, N.W.T.

Glen Ruben was swept away in the Hornaday River on Sept. 6, 2017. His common-law wife found his body two weeks ago. (Submitted by Ann Wolki)

For almost a year, Ann Wolki searched for the body of her husband who vanished in the Hornaday River near Paulatuk, N.W.T.

Two weeks ago, she found him.

Now, the widow is saying the family didn't get enough help searching for Glen Ruben all those months ago.  

On Sept. 6 last year, Wolki and her common-law husband, Glen Ruben, were coming back from camp on their ATVs. They were passing through the Hornaday River in a shallow spot that Wolki said the two always used.

They were talking. But when Wolki looked back to answer Ruben, he was gone.

"I never saw him again," she said.

Months of searching

Her husband had been swept away in the river, said Wolki. The river was a bit high because of the rain, but they had passed through that area many times before without any problems.

This area of the Hornaday River was the focus of the initial search and recovery. (Lawrence Ruben)

For seven weeks Wolki, family and community members searched for Ruben in the river and along the shore, but they couldn't find him.

Paulatuk has a population of 265, according to the 2016 census. At one point there were about 37 people out looking for Ruben, said Wolki. 

"It was dangerous for everybody, but we did it," Wolki told CBC News.

"[I felt] hopeless ... but we kept on going. I couldn't stop anyways, even though I was so tired."

Then the river started to freeze; boats could no longer pass.

Wolki waited until the ice was solid and went back out to search for Ruben. She would go out to the river and drill holes in the ice. Then she would take a GoPro and search for Ruben's body underneath the ice — something she says was difficult because it would often be too thick and slushy to see through.

Then the river thawed again.

'It was him'

Wolki started a job at Generation Mining at the beginning of July. When she was in a helicopter for work on July 16, she said she saw an opportunity to get a bird's eye view of the river.

"I kind of made them go off route," said Wolki.

She asked the pilot to fly over the Hornaday River where she last saw her husband.

Paulatuk lies on the Arctic Ocean, about 100 kilometres north of the treeline. (CBC)

"It was a guy sitting to the left side of me, he said, 'I see your husband,'" said Wolki.

"I was telling him not to say that because we had searched that spot over and over."

The pilot turned the helicopter around, while others in the chopper confirmed that they, too, saw a body.

Wolki said she requested that the helicopter land.

"Me and this other guy we ran to the body and it was him," said Wolki.

"I was maybe four or five steps from him when I just dropped. I was so weak. I couldn't go anymore."

Police helped for 1 day, claims widow

Wolki said the RCMP only helped with the initial search for one day after the disappearance, and then said they couldn't continue because it was too dangerous to search the river.

She said the RCMP have searched other, larger rivers than the Hornaday. 

"Why is it so different in Paulatuk, when we were really desperate for help?" said Wolki, adding the family called police multiple times to try and get assistance.

​Now Wolki wants to make sure no one else in Paulatuk goes through the same thing.  

It was a guy sitting to the left side of me, he said, 'I see your husband.'- Ann Wolki

"It's tough when something happens like that and you got no help," said Wolki.

She said in surrounding communities when someone goes missing they get helicopters, but when her husband went missing they got "not one thing in Paulatuk."

"I'm going to make it right," she said. "It took away my life."

MLA Herb Nakimayak said in an email that the family reached out to him to help fund special sonar equipment that could help in the search.

"The request was to fund sonar equipment at around $50,000 plus," he wrote. This equipment required special training to use, and it was "something outside of what an MLA can offer," wrote Nakimayak.

Wolki said she's speaking out now because she wants change.

"Someday it might happen again, and it's not good to have no outside help," she said.

The family will be holding a funeral for Ruben sometime this week, said Wolki. 

RCMP response

In an email, Cst. Robert Frizzell said RCMP had all local officers working to find Ruben. He said the officers worked in excess of 12 hours a day in conducting the search. As well, Frizzell said the RCMP paid for the gas and basic supplies for the community members who searched for Ruben using their personal ATVs and boats. 

Frizzell said "helicopters were contracted out over several days on numerous flights costing tens of thousands of dollars."

The Canadian Coast Guard, which was in the midst of doing an exercise near Paulatuk, was also asked to assist in the search, and provided two boats, according to Frizzell. 

"Having these vessels in the area and able to respond was a unique opportunity that wasn't missed," he stated.

"Overall a large amount of effort was put forth by many organizations including the RCMP and no decisions were made without first consulting with senior members overseeing the search, local community members, and the family."

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