False alarm for harrowing Exploits Search and Rescue over weekend

·4 min read
Exploits Search and Rescue attempted to rescue someone who fell through pond ice, not knowing they had made it out safely. (Courtesy Exploits Search and Rescue - image credit)
Exploits Search and Rescue attempted to rescue someone who fell through pond ice, not knowing they had made it out safely. (Courtesy Exploits Search and Rescue - image credit)

Indian Arm Pond in central Newfoundland was the scene of a harrowing search and rescue operation to locate a person who had seemingly fallen through ice, an endeavour that began Friday night and lasted late into Saturday morning through blizzard conditions.

But the SAR team wasn't aware, as some twenty-five people combed the area, that the person was already safely at home.

Exploits Search and Rescue had been called out to Indian Arm Pond following reports that someone had fallen into the water, after a passer-by had spotted what appeared to be an ice-auger and cushion near a section of broken ice.

Roger Goobie and his team were quick to respond in the worsening winter conditions, and after being unable to locate the missing individual were preparing to return alongside a dive-team Saturday morning, before getting word the person was safe and sound.

Goobie said they got the call around 11:30 p.m. Friday, and were on the scene until 4:00 a.m.

"When we got the call it was just starting to snow here in Grand Falls-Windsor, where we're based out of," Goobie said.

"When we got to Lewisport Junction, visibility was deteriorating very rapidly and by the time that we got down to the pond area, it was near white-out at times."

After the SAR team arrived they found objects on the ice that indicated someone had fallen through. Unbeknownst to Goobie and his team, somebody had indeed found themselves in the frozen pond — but at that point, was safely elsewhere.

That night with the wind howling and ... snow squalls, it was a difficult exercise for us to perform.

Worried that someone was trapped, however, and with the mounting storm making rescue efforts difficult, Goobie said it was a stressful situation for his team.

"Once they got out to the hole, they could tell that the ice was broken by someone that went through," Goobie said. "And certainly the worst comes to mind ... from previous experiences."

By the time the SAR team was concluding their initial search early Saturday morning, Goobie said they were shifting into a recovery operation.

"After we retrieved the ice-auger and the cushion that was there, at this point then it was more — as we thought — a recovery," he said.

"So we had to notify the RCMP dive team, and that's what we were gearing up for then, for light in the morning."

Happy to hear missing individuals safe

Before the SAR team and divers could go out again the next morning, Goobie said they received word that the missing person had managed to get out of the pond and was recovering.

Goobie said while the team sighed with relief, he pointed out the inherent danger to SAR operators when they go out in unfavourable conditions.

"It's always a risk for what we were involved in, and the type of work that we perform," he said.

Goobie said he and his team follow a number of safety protocols to ensure that risk to the rescuers remains minimal, but challenges still arise.

"Visibility and voice commands back and forth is pertinent when you're trying to [perform a rescue], then that night with the wind howling and there's snow squalls, it was a difficult exercise for us to perform."

In hindsight, Goobie said, it's helpful to let local law enforcement or search and rescue know if you've fallen through the ice but made it out safely yourself, to mitigate confusion if anyone else wanders past.

"Just a simple phone call to the police authorities to say, listen, I went through this area, I'm out safe, but there is some debris left there so just make note of it," Goobie said.

"We all realize the stress that that person was under when they fell in," he said. "Their main thing is get home, get dry, and get warm—but just a little bit of hindsight for the public, it's important to let the proper authorities know.

"We train to help people, we all volunteer for this. It's what we enjoy doing, is helping people. But if we don't have to go out, we're certainly happy to stay home as well."

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