Iqaluit is in mourning for eight Inuit hunters who drowned on the night of Saturday, Oct. 29 when their boat capsized and they were plunged into the icy waters of Frobisher Bay.
A private ceremony for the families of the men was held Wednesday night, Nov. 2. Two days later, 500 Iqaluit residents attended a memorial service at St-Jude’s Anglican Cathedral. They were joined by mourners who flew in from nearby outpost camps and communities across Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Later in the day, a gathering was held at the community’s high school for mourners to talk about how they felt about the tragedy.
“In spite of all the deep grief and tragedy, as Christians we believe He understands this and has been there Himself,” said Rev. Mike Gardner, who conducted the memorial service. “We can only hope in Jesus Christ. In the end, He will bring these eight to be with Him,” he said in a Nunatsiaq News article.
Miraculously, rescue officials found two survivors on Tuesday, Nov. 1 who for three days managed to hold on to the wreckage in the frigid, -10 C water. The two survivors told rescue workers that their eight companions all perished.
The survivors were spotted by a Hercules SAR aircraft and picked up by a Fisheries and Oceans vessel on Tuesday at around 1:30 p.m., about 16 km from shore. They were taken to an outpost camp called Gold Cove and from there by helicopter to the Baffin Regional Hospital in Iqaluit. The survivors are Pitseola Alainga, 33, and Billy Kownirk, 27.
Pitseola and Billy gave rescue officials an eyewitness account of their ordeal. They had set out on the morning of Tues.,
Oct. 25 to hunt walrus at the mouth of Frobisher Bay. Simonie Alainga, the Elder who owned the 38-foot fishing boat Qasauq, had planned a trip down the bay the previous weekend, but called it off when he couldn’t get the boat working properly, due to mechanical problems. Simonie is one of the eight who perished.
The hunters spent several days at the mouth of the bay and started heading back to Iqaluit on Saturday. That night, at about 11 p.m., the men sent a radio distress call to Gold Cove, saying the boat’s pumps weren’t working properly and they were taking in water.
All the men then got into a 16-foot canoe boat they had brought along. This boat capsized almost immediately, plunging the men into the water. The older men apparently couldn’t swim and drowned. Billy Kownirk, who was wearing a floater suit, and Pitseola Alainga, who had on wind pants, got back to the larger boat and took turns getting on it to try to dry off.
The search began Sunday but was hampered by persistent low clouds and snow flurries. The men say a search plane flew nearby on the second day but didn’t see them. The men kept their spirits by talking constantly to each other. When rescuers finally reached the men, they were conscious but soaked through to the skin. Their limbs were so swollen their clothes had to be cut off.
Nunatsiaq News quoted one observer who said the two men lived to pass on their stories and teach others. “Somebody had to live to tell the story. Sometimes miracles do happen,” he said. “There were a lot of prayers, and they were answered.”
The eight lost men are: Simonie Alainga, Johnny Shoo, Sammujualie Kootoo, Jopie Panipak, Epeebee Peterloosie, lola Nooshoota, Ooletoa Pishukte and Kellypiak Pishukte.