Five dropped 911 calls and a remote snowmobile rescue in Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan RCMP is sharing the story of two RCMP officers who rescued stranded snowmobilers in northwest Saskatchewan, and the outdoorsmen who helped make it happen.   

"I heard about it on the (police) radio while driving to Meadow Lake from Waterhen Lake First Nation where I'm posted. Five dropped 911 calls from a phone number that wasn't able to receive calls back," said an officer identified as Cst. Goodfellow, briefly explaining that it likely meant the cell phone was either out of service or the battery was dead.

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"I started investigating the file while Meadow Lake officers were attending other calls for service. I looked the cell location up on a map and it was 45 kilometers south of Green Lake and 30 kilometers into the bush. My initial instinct was that it wasn't a natural place to be calling from – no roads, no houses. Even though you don't have all the information, you have to assume that people are likely in distress," said Cst. Goodfellow.

That's when the call became even more involved than initially anticipated.

It was nearly 7 p.m. on Jan. 31 and an officer identified as Cst. Carignan was finishing up her day shift. She learned about the call and stayed on to assist. "We knew something bad may have happened. The male caller was able to ask the operator to phone someone for him. We were able to search the phone number and locate who it was associated to.

“We went to that location and learned there were two adult males from that residence soaking wet and stranded in the woods. We asked the family if they needed our assistance and they said 'yes.'"

The officers went back to Meadow Lake Detachment and loaded two RCMP snowmobiles onto a trailer. In addition to the equipment they regularly carry, they packed items like basic medical supplies, satellite GPS, a satellite phone and food.

Goodfellow grabbed his fire starting kit and both officers put on boots and warm clothing. The sunlight was fading fast and the temperature was -18 C and dropping. The cold, paired with knowing the stranded men were wet, was a shared concern among everyone involved.

The officers and family of the missing men drove 20 minutes away to a location where they could unload their snowmobiles – three in total – and begin searching. "There are no real snowmobile trails in that area," said Carignan. "There are trees, steep ravines, rivers, logging roads and trap lines. We had to build our own little trails in some areas."

At first the group was riding on light snowy powder on a seasonal road, but that changed as they navigated further into the trees.

"It's a very wildlife-enriched area with moose, wolves and other animals," said Goodfellow. "You have to be aware of what's going on around you at all times – you could break down, damage the snowmobile – you have to be careful because if you break down, you're in the middle of nowhere."

"We came into contact with Mr. T, a man very familiar with the area and the individuals we were searching for. He had also been made aware of the circumstances and was out searching on snowmobile, too. I showed him a map of where they were believed to be and Mr. T identified the area immediately and guided us directly there," said Goodfellow.

The two stranded men were very cold, their clothing soaked through and frozen over when the search group located them. Their snowmobile had broken through waist-deep water at the bottom of a 20-foot ravine. Their fire had gone out 15 minutes prior.

"It was a stressful event,” said Goodfellow. “We found two people who may not have survived if we hadn't located them. We didn't know their fire went out, we didn't know if they were injured. Your brain goes to the worst-case scenario and you don't know the timeline you have. It just so happened the timeline was good in this situation."

They transported the men to a residence a 30-minute snowmobile ride away so they could warm up and be picked up. The pair were taken to hospital and assessed for minor injuries.

The snowmobile search started around 9:30 p.m. and the pair was located around midnight. The two RCMP officers got back to Meadow Lake detachment around 3 a.m.

The detachment recognized Mr. T for his contribution to their search by presenting him with a certificate of appreciation from the North District management team. Both Goodfellow and Carignan were there for the presentation.

"Without him, the situation could have ended very differently and that's why it was important for us to recognize him," said Carignan. "We would never have found that exact location. His knowledge of the territory, it was the best thing we could've had."

Goodfellow explains that growing up in a policing family living in Saskatchewan and British Columbia helped prepare him for this experience, along with his previous posting in Pelican Narrows.

"You use your life skills and what you've learned at depot and everything since. You supplement that knowledge by taking RCMP snowmobile training and other courses. Because I enjoy being outdoors, I sort of knew what to expect."

With two and a half years of service, Carignan reflects on her time in the area thus far.

"Meadow (Lake) is my first post. It's very different and very cold. This is never the type of call I thought I would be going to when I was going through depot. It's very rewarding when you find the people you're searching for, especially given the circumstances like this."

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