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SteinbachOnline.com

A man from southeastern Manitoba says if he hadn’t stumbled upon a helpless family last month, they could have lost their toes in the cold weather.

Phil is a trapper who was riding his snowmobile near Whitemouth Lake on December 28th, when he came across a car that had broken through the ice at Mosquito Creek. Phil says his initial reaction was anger, as he questioned why someone would destroy a snowmobile trail by driving their car down it. But, when he reached the car, he spotted an adult man and two children huddled beneath a blanket. The man told Phil they got lost on their way to Toronto.

2020 02 23 tinpanshelter(The SOS call came from the circled shelter along Trail 29.)Phil then learned there were two other family members that had already started walking for help. But, in the direction they were going, the nearest road was at least 40 kilometres away. Leaving the three inside the car, Phil then hopped on his snowmobile in search of the missing family members. He found them about three kilometres down the trail.

“They were so cold, that they were just sitting beside the road,” recalls Phil.

He says the air temperature was about -12 degrees and the two had been out all night. They were walking in runners and not wearing jackets, mittens or toques. They had stopped walking because their feet were frozen.

Phil gave them his winter clothing and then loaded them onto his snowmobile and rode back to the Tin Pan Shelter, used by South East Sno-Riders. He then built a fire for the entire family and sent out an SOS on his SPOT GPS tracking device. The SOS was sent not only to RCMP but also to Phil’s family, who immediately feared the worst.

“(My family) sent people out after me,” he recalls.

Phil says eventually a group of riders showed up at the shelter, prepared to do some volunteer work there, unaware of the rescue going on. The three riders offered their packed lunches to the family, who was originally from Sudan and did not speak good English.

“These people haven’t eaten or drank anything for twenty-four hours, so they are starving,” says Phil.

Phil was also then able to send a message to his wife, assuring her that he was okay and that a helicopter rescue would not be needed.

With the help of RCMP and the three snowmobile club members, Phil says they were able to bring the family to safety.

According to Mitch Gobeil, President of South East Sno-Riders, the family was in a car similar to a Toyota Corolla. Driving from western Canada to eastern Canada, they were following their GPS, which told them to go through the Sprague border crossing and into the United States. When they got to the border, they turned around in order to stay in Canada. But, Gobeil says in that area of the province, cell service is practically non-existent. Gobeil says they should have stayed on Provincial Road 308 and driven up to the Trans Canada Highway, but without GPS they probably took what appeared to be a road and ended up getting stuck on a snowmobile trail.

Phil says because that trail had just been groomed earlier in the week, it probably looked like a road to this family.

(The SOS call came from the circled shelter along Trail 29.)

The President for South East Sno-Riders shared details this week of how his club was involved in rescuing a family.

Mitch Gobeil says on December 28th he was called by Steinbach RCMP. The detachment had received an SOS from a trapper and the GPS location showed it came from South East Sno-Riders’ Tin Pan Shelter on Snoman Trail 29. RCMP were calling Gobeil, looking for information on how to access that location.

2020 01 shelter(Tin Pan Shelter)Gobeil gave specific directions to RCMP but then moments later received a second call from police, who were having trouble getting their snowmobiles going. Gobeil then agreed to assist with the rescue and found another club member who would join him on the mission. By then, the two had learned it was a family of five, who spoke very little English, that had got their vehicle stuck on the snowmobile trail the night before.

Gobeil and the other club member agreed they would head to the site and then transport the family. The family was stranded in the vicinity of Whitemouth Lake. There is a boat landing there, where RCMP and ambulance would be waiting. The shelter is about 12 kilometres from that boat landing. Gobeil and his partner would transport the family from the shelter to the boat landing. Gobeil says they packed extra jackets and mittens just in case.

The two left South Junction and an hour later arrived at the landing to find two ambulances, an officer, the trapper who found the family earlier that morning…and the family. It seemed someone had already beaten them on the rescue mission. What happened is that a trapper was checking his traps that morning when he found three family members inside their vehicle. The trapper took the three family members to the snow club’s warmup shelter but was then told there were two other family members that were walking east on Trail 29, headed for the Trans Canada Highway. The trapper located the other two family members, brought them to the warm up shelter and activated the SOS on his SPOT GPS tracking device.

At the same time that all of this was going on, three members of South East Sno-Riders were on their way to the Tin Pan Shelter, completely oblivious to what was going on there. They were half a kilometre away when they found a vehicle stuck on the trail. Gobeil says they continued to the shelter and were surprised to meet the trapper and the lost family, which consisted of a father, mother, a teenager and two younger children. Not knowing if the trapper’s SOS had worked, one of the club members decided to ride his snowmobile to a place where he could get a cell signal and then call 911.

As they waited for help to arrive, the club members gave their lunches to the family who had been without food or water since the night before. Then, the club member decided he would sled back to where he had called 911 in order to see where the rescuers were staying. On his way, he came across an RCMP officer with a truck on Trail 29 at the Whitemouth River. The officer explained they had two ambulances waiting at the boat landing. So, the three club members, plus the trapper and another snowmobiler then transported the family to the RCMP truck and then the family was brought to the ambulances. Gobeil and his partner arrived at the boat landing just as the family members were getting loaded into the ambulances.

Police say the family was checked over and all were fine.

So, what led to this family getting their car stuck on a snowmobile trail?

According to RCMP, the family was on its way to Toronto. Gobeil says they were in a car similar to a Toyota Corolla. Driving from western Canada to eastern Canada, they were following their GPS, which told them to go through the Sprague border crossing and into the United States. When they got to the border, they turned around in order to stay in Canada. But, Gobeil says in that area of the province, cell signals are practically non-existent. Gobeil says they should have stayed on Provincial Road 308 and driven up to the Trans Canada Highway, but without GPS they probably took what appeared to be a road and ended up getting stuck on a snowmobile trail.

“Somewhere along I think they just started guessing and obviously guessed totally wrong,” says Gobeil.

After the vehicle was towed out, the family was back on its way to Toronto.