Facebook appeal rescues lost kids from blizzard

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This photo of baby Tyler Baribeau was posted on facebook to reassure mother and family of the child’s wellbeing.

What seemed like a normal weekend outing to their trap lines quickly turned into a nightmare for five children from the Shecapio family February 21 when they got lost in a blizzard 25 kilometres north of Mistissini. Although it easily could have turned tragic, the ordeal had a happy ending as the community came together to help find the missing children.

The problems began when two of the three snowmobiles they set out on broke down. Concerned for their health, parents Morley and Jennifer Shecapio stayed behind with the snowmobiles as the children, Sylvester (17), Rachel (15), Diane (14), Marlon (9) and Tyson (1) took the third machine ahead to the cabin.

Desperate for help, Jennifer posted a request on Facebook asking for assistance. “I saw the distress call from Morley’s wife,” family member Larry Shecapio said. “They said they have been there for hours and they were getting cold.”

After calling the emergency services, Larry joined the search party and along with his brother George they set off in the storm. Heading towards the narrows by Lake Mistissini, they had come across the location where the distress call had been made but no one was there.

“We found their stuff but we couldn’t find the skidoos,” Larry said. “We didn’t know what was going on, so I messaged her on Facebook and she told me they were already at the cabin but that her children were missing.”

With the blizzard picking up, the search party switched from helping a couple with their broken skidoos to finding five missing children including a one-year-old baby. The blizzard made the search extremely difficult with tracks being covered almost instantly.

“It was already nine o’clock at night and it was really, really bad,” Larry said of the conditions. “The blizzard was blowing snow like crazy, you could not see far at all and there were four of us.”

Sylvester's glove that Larry found, leading rescuers to the location of the children.

Sylvester’s glove that Larry found, leading rescuers to the location of the children.

After continuing the search throughout the night, the search party took turns sleeping at Morley’s cabin as they waited for the morning light. “When we got to searching again at six in the morning, we began at the place where we first saw a skidoo trail the night before,” Larry said.

The search party had split up and as they were searching Larry noticed something on the ice. As he got closer he saw it was a glove he did not recognize. He took a photo of it and sent it over to Jennifer to see if she could identify. She recognized it immediately as Sylvester’s glove, and immediately the trail for the lost children warmed up.

Not long after the glove was found, the children were discovered around one kilometre from the campsite. Thanks to the quick thinking of Sylvester, the children had kept warm for the 12 hours they were missing by making a makeshift shelter and covering it with a tarp.

After the kids had left their parents, their skidoo had become stuck in slushy ice on the lake. Using his traditional knowledge, Sylvester moved the kids to shore and set up the shelter. After they were discovered, the search party had noticed that if their skidoo had not been stuck in the slush the ordeal could have had a far more tragic outcome.

“In the direction their skidoo was gearing, there was an open water hole,” Larry said. “If they were to have kept going and with such low visibility, something tragic could have happened.”

But throughout the ordeal, the community of Mistissini came together to help search for the missing children and thanks to the quick thinking of the eldest child, Sylvester, the story finished with a happy reunion.

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