After seven days lost on the land during a September hunting trip Bart Hanna-Kappianaq is reassured that he’s cared for dearly.
Military searchers rescued the Iglulik resident and initially took him to Hall Beach on Sept. 21 because it was closer.
“People were very, very happy,” Hanna-Kappianaq said of the warm reception he received. “I always thought I wasn’t so important. I’m just an artist, I’m not anyone special, and I was wrong. When I came to Hall Beach they shaked my hand and hugged me. It was emotional, there was crying. It was a very, very good feeling.”
The ordeal began on Sept. 13 when Hanna-Kappianaq, 69, fired up the 150-horsepower motor on his boat, which was loaded with an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and he headed out on an eight-hour ride to his hunting grounds on the mainland.
After arriving, he unloaded the ATV and settled in for the night. The next morning he rounded up his gear but he forgot to grab his GPS.
Carrying his rifle, a water-filled Thermos and a couple of oatmeal bars, he drove for several hours over the rough terrain and up some big hills, where he found his prey.
“I got three caribou. I skinned them, and by the time it was all skinned, which is a lot of work and I was alone… it got dark,” Hanna-Kappianaq recalled.
The terrain was too rugged and dangerous to risk travelling back at night. He doesn’t know the temperature, but there were ice crystals and the ground was white, he said.
“So I went to sleep behind a big rock. I put one skin of caribou as a blanket. It was cold,” said Hanna-Kappianaq, who was dressed in two jackets, jeans and wind pants and he was wearing insulated hip waders.
The next morning he got back on the ATV and descended into a valley. He saw a stream and headed towards it, but the ATV got bogged down. He tried to free it, but couldn’t.
Realizing he’d have to spend the night, he called upon the survival skills he learned from his father and the Canadian Rangers. He built a fire, fuelled by some of the plentiful twigs in the area. He also used the twigs, rocks and a caribou hide to make a sleeping platform with the remaining caribou hides as blankets.
The next morning, the third day, Hanna-Kappianaq worked feverishly to get the ATV out of the mud and he finally prevailed several hours later. He packed up his gear and took off, hoping to find his boat, but eventually realized he was lost.
“I was so confused,” he said.
As darkness crept in, Hanna-Kappianaq, resigned to his fate, began to make camp again. He chose a spot near a large rocky hill, which he found had a crevice in it. He was able to climb in and out of it, lining the bottom with rocks, twigs and caribou skins for his sleeping platform. The rock walls served as a good windbreak, he said.
Lying there staring at the night sky, unsure of what would become of him, he reflected on the things most important in his life.
“I was thinking of my grandchildren, my spouse, my daughters,” he said. “I started praying to the man upstairs.”
Unbeknownst to Hanna-Kappianaq, the Iglulik and Hall Beach search-and-rescue teams and some Rangers were already out looking for him. Two of his nephews knew he planned to land his boat, but nobody knew where he went after he reached land.
George Qattilik, one of the Iglulik Rangers who joined in the search, said the night they arrived was chilly.
“We were thinking about him. Here we were in a cabin with our sleeping bags, it was not that bad for us. We were thinking about Bart,” he said, adding that the searchers later found and followed Hanna-Kappianaq’s ATV tracks as far as they could but were unable to track him down.
At home, Hanna-Kappianaq’s family was worried and fought to remain optimistic.
“I would mostly think maybe he’s hungry, maybe he’s so cold, maybe he’s dying,” said Sharon Hanna-Kappianaq, his daughter. “But I was trying to think more positive: no, he’s a Ranger, I bet he knows what to do. I’m hoping he’s doing OK.”
As of the fourth day, Hanna-Kappianaq decided to stay put, knowing that is the recommended practice when a person is lost. He also wanted to avoid burning his remaining ATV fuel supply, which was handy for starting fires.
He continued to carve off pieces of caribou meat and cooked it over an open fire. He said he knew he had enough caribou to last more than a month, if necessary. Due to his excellent marksmanship, he was also able to enjoy some ptarmigan too. There was a stream nearby where he’d fill his Thermos.
The seventh day brought a roar in the sky.
“I saw a big Hercules (aircraft),” he said. “I started making a fire and waving. They turned around again and I know there’s someone looking for me.”
A couple of military search-and-rescue crew members parachuted down near his camp.
“I went running to them. I was so thankful and happy,” Hanna-Kappianaq recalled.
After spending the night in a military-issue tent, a helicopter came for them the following day and took them to Hall Beach.
He was greeted by relieved family members upon returning to Iglulik. His daughter Sharon flew in from Ottawa to be with him.
“He was so happy to see me. He hugged me and I cried a little, happy tears,” she said.
On future hunting trips, Hanna-Kappianaq vows to be wiser. He will be sure to carry a GPS and a SPOT emergency locator device, he said.
“These things are very expensive, but life is more important.”
The Hamlet of Igloolik has 20 SPOT devices available to the public, free of charge. Eighteen of the 20 are currently on loan.