Coral Harbour -
Battling hypothermia and freezing skin, a trapped teenage hunter was forced to shoot and kill a polar bear as he waited for more than a day to be rescued from a large chunk of drifting sea ice in the Canadian North.
The teen and his 67-year-old uncle, who had gone out polar bear hunting, were reported overdue late Saturday, said Ed Zebedee, director of the Government of Nunavut's protection services branch.
The snowmobile they were riding broke down approximately 18 kilometres from Coral Harbour, a tiny community on Nunavut's Southampton Island in the northern part of Hudson Bay.
As they walked toward the community to get help, they became separated. A large chunk of ice broke off, setting the teen adrift, said Zebedee.
The uncle was picked up Sunday morning. Searchers on snowmobiles located the man as he walked on the pack ice off the coast of the island.
His nephew, meanwhile, remained lost.
Sometime between Saturday and Sunday, the teen, who was armed with a rifle, encountered three bears, likely a female and two older cubs, on the same large ice pan.
One bear, likely the adult, simply got too close.
"He did have to shoot the polar bear to protect himself," Zebedee said. "There were two other bears on the ice pan, but they stayed away from him so he didn't shoot at them at all."
The two cubs remained with the carcass and the teen managed to position himself as far away as he could from the remaining animals.
Jean-Pierre Sharp, an official with the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario, said an aerial search was launched Sunday morning.
A pilot on a small plane chartered by a government search-and-rescue agency spotted the teen Sunday afternoon and also saw the carcass of a bear down below.
Zebedee said the crew on board dropped a plastic container of chocolate bars and candy to the stranded boy.
A Hercules aircraft also spotted the boy Sunday, but lost sight of him as the plane circled back to take another look and darkness set in. The crew continued to search for the teen through the night, dropping flares to illuminate the snowy landscape, but couldn't find him, Sharp said.
On Monday morning, the crew on board the military search-and-rescue aircraft again spotted the youth, who had drifted about 34 kilometres from where the snowmobile had broken down, Sharp said.
Two search-and-rescue technicians parachuted to a larger ice floe a short distance away to mount their rescue attempt.
"They had to sort of belly crawl across some of the ice floes to get to the one he was on," said Sharp. "Even after spending hours alone, huddling in temperatures that dipped below -15 C, the teen appeared to be in decent shape. He was conscious, slightly hypothermic and appeared to have some frostbite."
The military search-and-rescue experts dressed the boy in warm clothes.
The two remaining bears were still in the area when the rescuers arrived, Zebedee said.
"I was just told nobody wanted to be on the ice with the bears too long."
About an hour later, searchers who had launched a small boat from Coral Harbour located all three bears and took them to shore.
The 67-year-old man, identified by RCMP as Jimmy Nakoolak, and the 17-year-old boy, whose name was not released, were both taken to hospital in Churchill, Man., to be treated for hypothermia.