The official search has been scaled back for four fishermen missing on Great Slave Lake since Sept. 29, but searches by family members and Hay River residents continued as of late last week.
“You just never really give up until you know for sure,” said Rosemarie Courtoreille of Alberta, who has two brothers among the missing fishermen.
The ongoing searches – on the shoreline, on the water and even from the air – involve local residents and fishermen, and family members of the missing fishermen who have travelled to Hay River from Alberta and British Columbia.
“It’s been tough, and that’s putting it lightly, if I had to put it in words,” said Courtoreille of searching without any sign of the missing fishermen.
“We’re not completely giving up, but it’s exhausting. It’s tiring,” she said on Oct. 10. “We may never give up.”
The RCMP has identified the missing fishermen as Daniel Courtoreille, 51, Michael Courtoreille, 50, and Jason Fulton, 40, all from the Lesser Slave Lake area in Alberta. The fourth missing fisherman is Stacy Linington, 59, from Hay River.
The four men left the commercial wharf in Hay River early on Sept. 29 to check fishing nets at Sulphur Point, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake east of Hay River.
They were scheduled to return before nightfall that day, but were reported missing in the early morning hours of Sept. 30.
The fishermen were aboard a 33-foot aluminum hull vessel, equipped with a pilot house, two engines, VHF radio, life jackets and fishing equipment.
On Oct. 1, a search aircraft spotted the fishermen’s partially submerged vessel in the area of Windy Bay on the north side of Great Slave Lake. Three debris fields were located in proximity to the vessel, and fishing equipment was recovered.
In an Oct. 4 news release, Hay River RCMP announced that, after an extensive aerial and water-based search over the previous four days, they were in a “recovery mode” for the missing fishermen.
On Oct. 7, the Hay River RCMP announced that the active marine search for the four missing fishermen was being scaled back.
The previous day four members of the RCMP’s underwater dive team from Vancouver had inspected the vessel and concluded the missing fishermen were not with the vessel or in the immediate vicinity.
The vessel was brought to the surface, but the anchor points could not resist the wave action and it sunk to the bottom of the lake.
“Under the circumstances and with the challenging conditions, a decision was made by RCMP to scale back the marine search, with the families notified of this change,” stated an Oct. 7 news release from the police. “The decision included forecasts of deteriorating weather conditions predicting strong winds, rain and potentially snow in the coming days.”
The RCMP noted it has been in constant communication with the families of the missing fishermen.
A further aerial search could be scheduled in the coming weeks using Civilian Air Search and Rescue Association aircraft to inspect the western and southern shorelines of Great Slave Lake.
“If further evidence comes to light, lifting the marine search suspensio
n may be re-evaluated,” the RCMP stated.
The RCMP thanked community members and other organizations for assisting in the search.
“We are extremely grateful to our partner agencies in their courageous efforts to locate these missing men, assisting us in many ways,” said Sgt. Brandon Humbke of the Hay River RCMP. “We are also thankful to the citizens of Hay River, in supporting the families that came up to be closer during the search efforts. Our thoughts are with the families at this time.”
Community volunteers and family members of the missing fishermen are continuing to organize further searches.
“Almost every day they were out,” said Beatrice Lepine, who has been helping to organize assistance for family members of the missing fishermen at Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre.
About 20 family members were still in Hay River as of late last week.