A teenager spent two nights adrift on an ice floe in the Canadian Arctic with three polar bears for company before being dramatically rescued, it emerged today.
The 17-year-old youth, named as Jupi Angootealuk, was forced to shoot dead one of the bears after it ventured too close while rescuers desperately tried to locate him from the air.
The young hunter was stranded on an ice floe which had broken away from the mainland and drifted out to sea in weather that regularly dipped below minus 15C.
Mr Angootealuk had left his native town of Coral Harbour, an isolated hamlet of 700 Inuit hunters on the northern edge of Hudson Bay, with his uncle Jimmy Nakoolak on Friday morning. The polar bear season had just begun and the two hunters headed out on to the frozen seas with their rifles to test the ice and look for prey.
But, 18km into their journey, their snowmobile broke down and the couple were forced to risk the journey back on foot. As they walked, they were separated when the ice began breaking up and drifting away in opposite directions.
Despite having badly injured knees, Mr Nakoolak managed to stumble across a search-and-rescue party on Sunday morning who helped raise the alarm that his nephew was stranded on an ice floe.
The floe that Jupi was trapped on was now 10km out to sea and contained a polar bear and her two cubs. At some point the adult polar bear was shot dead by the youth in self defence.
Two aircraft were scrambled to look for the missing teen. Late on Sunday afternoon Phil Amon, a pilot with Kenn Borek Air Ltd, spotted the boy on a patch of ice little more than 30 metres across.
“We circled around him for about 40mins or so,” he told The Globe and Mail. “He never waved at all. I don’t think he really wanted to move because the bears were so close.”
Unable to land on the ice, all Mr Amos could do was drop an emergency rations kit and alert a Hercules transport plane which was carrying a specialist search-and-rescue team.
The Hercules spotted the boy that evening but Jupi was forced to spend a second night on the ice as the plane’s flares failed to keep the area sufficiently well lit to continue the search. The following day two officials parachuted on to a larger ice floe and made their way to Jupi.
Jean-Pierre Sharp, an official at Canada’s Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, said: “The fact that our technicians were able to parachute in to land on an ice floe close by is an amazing thing for them. It’s kind of like if you would imagine trying to jump from lily pad to lily pad out on some ice and slushy water.”
Yesterday the boy was recovering from hypothermia alongside his uncle in the nearby town of Churchill. Speaking through Coral Harbour’s mayor Jerry Panniuq, Mr Nakoolak described his relief at finding out his nephew was alive.
“It was nice to know that he had a rifle with him and I was kind of worried that he might have been attacked by a bear or something,” he said. “When I heard he shot a bear I was happy to hear about it.”
Despite their critically endangered status, Inuit communities in Canada are still allowed to hunt a limited quota of bears throughout the winter. Each year approximately 450 bears are killed, with snowmobiles replacing
dog sleds as the primary way of stalking the bears.