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Search and rescue wraps tireless search in Waskaganish

Kahnawake’s search and rescue team worked tirelessly throughout the week last week, and some returned to Waskaganish yesterday to continue looking for the lost hunters. (Courtesy Kellyann Meloche)

Yesterday, members of Kahnawake’s Search and Rescue (KSAR) team returned home after a second tour of Waskaganish after engaging in a second major search for the two remaining missing hunters, whose community waits.

The second search came after KSAR worked much more than half of the 144 hours the team was in the Cree territory the week prior looking for three hunters, who went missing October 17.

As reported in last week’s Eastern Door, Patrick Salt, 48, was found deceased before Kahnawake’s team arrived, and Matthew Diamond, 43, was discovered around five hours after the team returned home. The community remains in search of Gabriel Shecapio, 30 and Kenneth Salt, 67, and six of the KSAR team returned north Thursday to continue the search.

“When KSAR came in, they were always soaked up to their chest either from falling in a hole or sweat from the physical work it took crossing the terrain,” said KSAR team leader Kellyann Meloche. “On our last day (yesterday) the community gave team leader Parker Jacobs a rifle in the event they seen a moose to take it down. Since this operation started, there was a freeze on all hunting. The community fearted families wouldn’t have meat for the winter since their missing men missed out on hunting.”

Meloche broke down how the initial search went with The Eastern Door Frankie McComber, Quinn Stacey, Michael W. Williams, Lance Goodleaf and Jacobs went back up with Meloche last week.

The team left Monday, October 23 at 11 p.m., and worked 87 of the 144 hours they were away, all volunteer hours, according to Meloche.

“The next morning I gave a very fast, crash course on what grid search is for ground search and rescue,” said Meloche. “We expanded the use of the resources because they have a lot of resources, they just didn’t know how to use them as affectively as they can.”

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This map shows all the material the search and rescue team found while searching for the lost men on their first week in the community. (Courtesy Kellyann Meloche)

There were three other search teams when KSAR arrived, and a handful more joined when news got out that Kahnawake was assisting.

It was an exhaustive search of 16 kilometres long and one kilometre wide that the team covered by foot. Each day KSAR would take a section being lifted in and out by helicopter after the first day.

Searchers walked along the soft clay shores, and in the water scanning for any sign of the men.

“They were floored when they heard that they got in the creek and walked the whole thing,” said Meloche. “That’s what these guys do. Half the team is marines. They’re used to going in the trenches, so to speak.”

The tide from the river comes in and leaves behind holes when it recedes. Searches were required to search every hole in case a body was trapped inside.

“We knew we were looking for bodies and every rock, water hole we passed, we thought it was one of the hunters,” said Meloche.

In addition, seals often gave searchers false hope.

“We had seals everywhere in the Hudson Bay,” said Meloche. “You see seals and you think it’s a body, so that was throwing us off.”

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After searching the first block on day one, KSAR was airlifted by helicopter to the remaining search zones. (courtesy Kellyann Meloche)

Throughout the week, clues turned up suggesting the team was on the right path, only to be disappointed.

“We wanted so badly to find them, but found so much of their belongings instead, like we were getting closer,” said Meloche.

“When the team came back, we had the sense of unfinished business,” she said.

In the end, Meloche said the hardest part was informing the community that, while they had found some items of the men’s, their bodies remained in the vast territory.

“So much to feel accomplished for, yet having to tell the families back at command, no men… was tough,” said Meloche.

Meloche told the community that KSAR’s job is to act as the families and friends, who do not have the expertise to search themselves.

“We’re representing them,” she said. “They’re not out there, but we are out there for them, so their hearts are with our hearts to look for their loved ones.”

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Search number two for KSAR involved extreme weather and limited visibility, as winter is coming fast and hard in the north. (Courtesy Kellyann Meloche)

It is the second search for KSAR, who assisted in helping search for Kahnawa’kehró:non Karennisakhe Jacobs, who drown in the St. Lawrence River October 13.

The second search met with extreme weather and low visibility.

“Not long after they were dropped in their zone, the snow storm started and visibility was very low even for the ground crews,” said Meloche. “Winter’s coming in hard over there.”

Though they didn’t find the bodies Meloche said there was a sense of closure as KSAR members were invited to the funeral feast for Matthew Diamond, and said the family was very grateful for the work KSAR put in.

danielr@easterndoor.com
Daniel J. Rowe
Daniel J. Rowe is an award-winning reporter and photographer originally from B.C. In addition to journalism, he produces and edits a Shakespeare-inspired blog and podcast called the Bard Brawl. His writing has also appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Canadian Press and U.S. Lacrosse magazine. His facial hair rotates with the season, and he’s recently discovered the genius of wearing a cowboy hat.
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