Jade was always a bit of a wanderer. When she was two, she would wander off into the trees, investigating berries, spruce cones, and other woodland goodies. Of course, we had to keep a very close eye on her.
I mentioned this to Elsie Marcellais, an elder in Nahanni Butte. She told me that, when her kids were toddlers, she used to put a ring of spruce boughs, prickly-side-up, around her barefooted babes. Because the kiddies didn't want to walk on the prickly - but otherwise harmless - spruce boughs, she had created a cheap and effective playpen.
Yesterday, a vacationing family that was camped along the North Canol Road experienced the nightmare of losing a child first-hand. At around 18:00, their two-year-old child disappeared.
I will attempt to share the story as I heard and witnessed it. Please forgive me if I get some of the details wrong. It has been a long day.
The child's parents recruited some nearby campers to help with the search. The neighbouring campers were missing their dog. Could the two be together? They searched, but it proved to be fruitless.
I can only imagine what was going through the mother's mind at the time. The night was cold and wet and the terrain in the area is rough, covered in thick willow patches. Most adults wouldn't make it through the night before succumbing to hypothermia, let alone a two-year-old child.
That night, the mother drove to Ross River to alert the RCMP. The Search and Rescue system snapped into high gear. RCMP specialists, including a tracking dog, were flown in. Search and Rescue teams were mobilized. The Rangers and other Ross River residents provided support.
I was part of the third wave of Whitehorse District Search and Rescuers mobilized for the search. First we flew in the RCMP's Twin Otter from Whitehorse to Ross River. Then we were driven 75 kilometres up the highway to the search location.
By the time we arrived, the child had been missing for over 24 hours.
Within moments of our arrival, there was news. They had found the child.
He was fine.
One of the WDSAR team members had spotted a small but inconclusive footprint that looked like it might have been made by a child's boot. The search focused in on the new area. A helicopter equipped with FLIR picked up a heat signature (the dog), which focused the search even more. When one ground team finished searching a grid, a new team resumed the grid.
Ryan Martin, one of my teammates from the 2007 Yukon Adventure Challenge and a fellow WDSAR member, was driving down the North Canol on his way home from work when he learned about the search. Ryan was working near the end of the search line when he spotted a dog, outside of the search pattern. Soon after, he spotted the child and the news was radioed out to the search teams.
Laura, who had spotted the footprint and who had been a part of the exhausting search since the morning, was standing beside the mother when the news came through. She said the look on the mother's face made it all worthwhile.
Reunited. PHOTO TEMPORARILY REMOVED (SEE THIS POST EXPLAINING WHY).
The dog, who had to have some porcupine quills removed from his snout, was received with a hero's welcome. The child was well dressed, but some have suggested that the child and dog cuddled together to keep warm.
The dog's owners didn't take their dog back. Instead, they gave him to the child's family.
Some of the WDSAR team made it back to Whitehorse tonight, while others are spending the night in Ross River, tired but happy.
As for me, it was my first WDSAR search: I travelled a great distance and never actually got to search. Am I disappointed? Not at all.
The child was found - alive - and that's what it's all about.