Search for 4 missing Fort Chip hunters becomes a search and recovery operation

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'We're doing everything we can': Fort Chipewyan RCMP find boot of 1 missing hunter

'We're doing everything we can': Fort Chipewyan RCMP find boot of 1 missing hunter

Dozens of volunteers and police continue to scour northern Alberta's Rocher River and surrounding area for four experienced outdoorsmen who "always made it home," according to the sister of two of the missing.

On Wednesday afternoon, Parks Canada and Fort Chipewyan RCMP said the search had become a search and recovery operation.

The four men, from Fort Chipewyan, Alta., left the community on Sunday for a short hunting trip on the river, north of the community. They were heading to a nearby area known as Devil's Gate.

They've been identified as Walter Ladouceur, Andrew Ladouceur, Keith Marten and Keanan Cardinal.

The search began after RCMP responded to a call about the disappearance Monday. As of Wednesday afternoon, three helicopters and a search and rescue boat equipped with sonar were still searching. 

Leona Lepine, the sister of Andrew and Walter Ladouceur, said she's "still praying and hoping for a positive outcome," adding that all four hunters are experienced outdoorsmen.

"They're bushmen," she said. "They learned from the best. They can survive the bush, and that's why my mom is so, so positive that they're coming home. 

"Because no matter where they went, no matter how rough the waters were, no matter how dark it was, they always made it home. And she said her boys are going to come home, so we're keeping the faith."

Mikisew Cree Chief Steve Courtoreille said early Wednesday that hope is dwindling.

"There's no evidence of them getting onshore or trying to walk or anything of that nature because they've been searching high and low throughout the whole area and further beyond that," Courtoreille said.

The men's boat was found early on in the search.

"There was water in there and also their guns were still in the boat. The boat wasn't tied up, so we knew that the young men were in some sort of trouble," Courtoreille said.

Thirty boats and about 70 volunteers from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation have been involved in the search, as well as RCMP and Parks Canada officials. ​

Wood Buffalo RCMP police dog services are also on the scene. 

'Families are very scared'

Courtoreille said the rivers have opened up in the area, but not completely. He said the riverbanks still have ice and anyone going out would have to push their boats about nine metres to get out on the water.

"That shows you the type of young men they are," he said. "They really wanted to be out there and probably get their first duck and have that first boat ride."

Courtoreille said all four men have close ties to the community, and everyone is still hopeful they'll be found alive.

"Right now everybody pretty much is on pins and needles wondering what's going to happen, if they're going to find them today, are they going to be OK.  All that right now depends on the outcome of the search today."

Courtoreille said they're getting lots of support from Edmonton and Fort McMurray.

"The families are very scared. They're very emotional. That affects the children in the community, some of them that's their brother, some of them that's their uncle, their dad. So prayers for the family, and that whatever the outcome is, that we bring some sort of closure to the families.

"They'll continue to search, we'll always continue until we come up with the young men."