Father's traumatizing mountainside recovery should change rescue protocol, says son

Father's traumatizing mountainside recovery should change rescue protocol, says son

Lloyd Fudge Jr. wakes up every day imagining the mountain his dad died on, reliving the late September day when he clung to a cliff with his namesake, waiting for an aerial rescue that never came. 

They were out moose hunting with family when his father suffered some sort of medical emergency — likely a heart attack. 

Fudge and two of his cousins tried to resuscitate him, but the 72-year-old outdoorsman couldn't be revived. 

They would end up waiting hours, alone, at high elevation, for unconventional, makeshift help. 

It was an agonizing ordeal Fudge doesn't want anyone else to go through, which is why, in light of his father's death, he's is pushing for new recovery protocols inspired by his experience. 

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"He was everything to me," Fudge said. "He was my left arm,"  

"And losing that part of your life in the way that we lost it. That traumatic experience — something I'll never forget."

Sept. 30, 2019

The day started out before sunrise, as many did on annual family hunting trips.

The group of four was heading into Facheux Bay, a 14-kilometre-long, uninhabited fjord on the south coast of the island, said Fudge.

They landed their boat at the tip of the fjord and were another two miles over the bog and up the steep mountain edge when the senior Lloyd Fudge collapsed. 

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"I don't even know how I got down over the side of the — face of the — mountain," said Fudge Jr., who was about 300 yards ahead of his father when he dropped. "I have no idea. I rolled, I ran. I don't know. But I knew I had to get to Dad."

He tried CPR, but couldn't find a pulse. They knew they needed help.

One of the cousins, Roger Fudge, who was like a son to the man he just watched die, set out on his own, down the mountain and back to the boat. 

He needed to travel 40 minutes out of the bay, to the open ocean, to get cell service. 

The call

Roger Fudge was instructed to call 911 and ask for a search and rescue chopper. 

Given the slope they were on, they felt trained technicians with a lift basket or other high-angle equipment were their only hope.

"After four or five hours of being in this wilderness, time to reflect on everything that's happened, our two-way radio breaks in and Roger says, 'we don't have any help coming," said Lloyd Fudge.

Fudge Jr. and his other cousin, who were back on the mountain stranded with Fudge Sr.'s body, were completely stunned. 

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"Disbelief then despair, anguish, anxiety. A whole gamut [of] mixed emotions on why there's no one coming," Fudge recalled feeling.

"I mean, this is my last resort. This is what I know. If this happens, [search and rescue] is my only resort. And that's been denied. So, you know, you look at the scenario and say, 'Well, what else do you do?"

They were considering options when the two-way radio broke in again. 

It was Roger Fudge. He'd recruited fish farmers from an aquaculture project located halfway up Facheux Bay.

Every day and every morning it's been a wake up to that mountain, to be reliving that nightmare. - Lloyd Fudge Jr.

Four workers — one of them a volunteer firefighter — made their way to the mountain with a gurney, a hundred feet of rope and little high-angle rescue experience. 

They let Fudge Jr. step away as they rolled his dad into a blanket. 

"We used our sweaters and our jackets to basically secure him into this basket because we didn't want him falling around or anything of that nature," said Fudge. 

He estimates the mountain was at about a 70-degree incline, the kind of angle you need your hands to get up over. 

They had to lower Fudge Sr. down something like 60 feet, he said. 

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"I basically grabbed the rope and slowly let him [descend] down over the hill. Slacked him down. The guys were on either side holding him. Making sure he didn't flip or toss on the mountain."

"Any point in time someone could have slipped, fell off through the side where the cliff was to, over the embankment. You know, it's a rocky, rugged kind of area. Anyone could have slipped and fell and broke an arm or broke a leg."

Once they were off the mountain, like pallbearers, the group carried Fudge Sr. out of the forest and through the bog, onto their boat.

RCMP response 

Sailing out of Facheux Bay, about five hours after their initial 911 call and seven hours after Fudge Sr. collapsed, the makeshift rescue team came across two RCMP officers who were sent by boat to help. Fudge Jr. said they were on an aquaculture vessel. 

Police didn't call the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax, the search and rescue centre operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Coast Guard, because Fudge Sr. wasn't injured or in distress but was presumed dead.

According to police, there is no written protocol for the recovery of bodies but the force said calling in helicopters is a last resort. 

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"When responding to the recovery of a person who has died in a remote location, if the body can be retrieved by an accessible land means (ATV, snowmobile, ambulance, on foot, etc.) the RCMP would use that method," reads a statement from the RCMP. "However, there will be rare occasions where the location would prevent recovery by land. The RCMP would reach out to air support, subject to their availability, to assist."

The force said rescue efforts are prioritized over recovery efforts. 

In Fudge Sr.'s case, police decided a boat would be the safest and quickest approach, citing inclement weather, which Fudge Jr. denies.  

The RCMP said officers that day spoke the person who called in the emergency — that would be Roger Fudge — as well as the volunteer firefighter from the aquaculture project who assisted in the recovery.

According to the statement, the RCMP considers other people in the situation, and the distress they're under, when determining which kind of support to send. 

"Mental health is always a consideration," the statement said. "The RCMP recognizes that any matter involving the sudden passing of a loved one is difficult.  We respond and make decisions to the best of our abilities given the totality of the circumstances present."

'Was I post-traumatic?'

Fudge wants new protocols to reflect cases like his where there's no easy way out. 

It would be different, he said, if there was a truck or all terrain vehicle and a roadway nearby. But his family was cliffside at the bottom of an isolated, miles-long fjord. 

"How did anyone know at that point in time that we didn't need rescue, is the question," Fudge said. "Was I in a state of shock? Could I walk? Was I post-traumatic? But I had to take the whole ordeal and just bury it inside of me and say, 'OK, time to strap on your big boots, you're getting Dad out of here yourself.'"

He said no other son should have to go through the anguish he, and the other untrained responders, experienced.

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Fudge said since the rescue, his mental health has taken a hit, but he's working through it, channelling his energy into his family. 

"Sleepless nights are not as frequent now as they used to be," he said. 

"Every day and every morning it's been a wakeup to that mountain … reliving that nightmare. But it's not what Dad would want. He wouldn't want me dwelling on this stuff."

So he takes it day by day — but he wants answers. 

Hunting, to him, is a right. Fudge wants to bring his sons into the woods — to pass down the tradition — but until things change, he doesn't feel it's safe.

He said unless people are willing to lie and say the person they're with is injured instead of dead, help won't come quick enough. 

"I think emergency services need to have a standard protocol, or a revised protocol, from … the ordeal that we went through," he said.

"No matter who you are or what you're doing, if you have a deceased individual, and you're in the middle of a countryside, everyone should have that right to have that service provided, to get out." 

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