Search for Two Hunters Lost in Pukaskwa Forest For 13 Days – Wawa Detachment 1970’s

This was posted by Garry Crawford, now retired, who was an officer at the Wawa OPP Detachment on FB. Wawa-news has shared it with his permission.

I have attached a picture that was taken on the night before our last day. Time has passed and like anyone else my memory has faded. I have forgotten the names of many in the picture. I leave that for others to identify. As I remember beginning on the front left. With red cap u/k, Constable Doug Arthur, just showing a head is Constable Don Harrison, The next fellow headed up the Soo S.& R. last name was McDonald, Corporal Ernie Bondarenko,u/k. Standing with green took Corporal Garry Crawford Search Co-coordinator, u/k with red jacket, Second row sitting no hat u/k, Constable Don Lewko, Uk. Standing back row on left, Ron Botham of MNR, next 4 u/k. Standing with blue shirt and cup in hand Constable Tex Luoma. The remainder I do not remember their names. As you can see some of us look rougher than others after our ordeal. Most of these members volunteered for this job, they showed the true spirit of the north. Thanks to you all.
Volunteers were plentiful in the north. I was always amazed, if one had a breakdown on the Highway the first car that came along was sure to stop and offer assistance. I feel sorry for OPP Officers who never have the opportunity to serve in the north. They are missing a great deal.  Wendy Bonitzke helped identify – top row, 3rd from left is Klaus Knorz, 5th from left, blue plaid shirt is Dave Page. Middle row on left Rick Dickson, front row on left with red plaid hat is Ray Camden. Paul Puckrin helped identify – That is Rick Dickson on the left of what could be considered the middle row.



The Hunter’s Story
If Memory serves me correctly it was on October the 9th, in the late 1970’s. Carl Norman, 36 and Ronald Frese, 28 of Akron, Ohio were flown into a Fly-in camp on a small lake near Jostle Lake, about twenty air miles west of Wawa, Ontario. The two men were flown in by White River Air Service to do some moose hunting. I believe Moose Season was to open the following day. The two men were advised that their flying service would be making periodic fly-overs as their time progressed. If there was an emergency or they shot a moose that needed taken out, they were to run up a flag on a pole that was installed at the camp. The camp itself was a simple tent camp set up on a wooden platform on a rock outcrop overlooking the lake. The interior contained the bare necessities of a stove, small table stand etc. and two rough wooden bunks. Washing and cooking utensils.

When the aircraft left Norman and Frese put there sleeping gear and packsacks containing their clothing food and other supplies into the camp. They decided that they would do a reconnoiter of the lake and surrounding area to see if there was any moose sign. They were already dressed in hunting gear, so they took their rifles and worked there way down the north side of the lake. On reaching a point approximately ¾ of the way down the lake, they came upon a cow moose with her calf standing in the shallow water. They shot the cow and wounded the calf, it ran off. They cleaned out their kill and retrieved a small boat that was at the camp, dragged the moose down the lake to the campsite and hung the moose in a tree. The two men had gotten quite wet in the process, they stripped off their wet hunting gear and changed into dry spare clothing they had brought with them. One was dressed in dress shoes a white T-shirt and a light jean jacket. The other was similarly dressed but just a shirt and no jacket.

I guess they were pretty excited about their kill and decided to go back and see if they could find the wounded calf. Only one of them took a rifle. On returning to the scene of their kill it was getting near dark. They started working their way back from the lake and when they reached a point approximately 500 yards north of the lake they came upon the calf and made their second kill. On bleeding the calf it was quite dark. One of the men took off his cap red hunting cap and placed it on top of a stump near the calf.

The two men then proceeded to return to their camp, which was in an easterly direction from the calf kill. They had no compass but did have a flashlight. Instead of heading east, they unknowingly headed southwest, they had completely lost their direction. They continued as far as they could that night and I believe the flashlight went dead. The following day they decided they had better conserve what they had and stay where they were for the time being. It is believed they stayed at this location for three days. They had the rifle, an axe, and the dead flashlight. They did not have any matches, food, compass, heavy clothing or proper footwear. They were getting quite hungry at this point. They took the battery out of the flashlight and used it as a water container. They found if they drank lots of water they felt some relief from the hunger. One of the two had marine survival training. They used the axe to gather evergreen boughs and made a type of igloo with a very small opening. The floor was also covered with fine boughs for bedding. At night the two men cuddled to help conserve their body heat. They were unable to make a fire. The third or fourth day one of the men shot a partridge, which they tried to eat raw. This was futile as they were unable to keep the raw meat in their stomach. The men advised that they were starting to feel quite weak, but found by laying in the sun on the flat rocks they felt rejuvenated.

It was about the fifth day without seeing any help, Norman and Frese had established some direction and decided to start to walk towards the highway, which they knew was in an easterly direction. They continued working their way east for a couple of more days and were getting pretty weak at this point. They built another similar shelter to the first one on a high cliff overlooking a ravine. One night a moose interrupted their sleep. The two men had pealed some poles and laid then out in an opening to form an H for help. By the twelfth night of their ordeal the two men decided they would get up in the morning and start walking towards the highway and continue until they dropped.

It was during the thirteenth day the two men were lost that they heard a helicopter. They rushed out of their shelter and waved to the circling helicopter. I later interviewed the two men at the Lady Dunn Hospital in Wawa. One of the men had temporarily lost his voice and was unable to talk. The other advised me about their rescue. He stated: That pilot really knew what he was doing. He came down just like a big fly. He put one of his skids on the edge of the cliff and just hovered there. We quickly climbed on board. I found this latter statement somewhat amusing, as it was told with what I would call a very heavy Kentucky drawl.

One of the men had lost 20 lbs. and the other 25 lbs. during their adventure. The two men were very appreciative of the members involved in their search and rescue, promising to raise money on their return to Ohio, which they would contribute to the Soo Search and Rescue and any other volunteer groups involved. Their tone changed somewhat when the Wawa Ministry of Natural Resources for taking the moose during the closed season charged them.

The Search

I believe it was on the 17th, of October. White River Air Service decided to check on their hunter’s. The two men had been lost for seven days at this point. I would think their week’s hunt was ending and their aircraft had witnessed no flag signal. On checking the cabin they found a moose hanging in a tree and obvious signs that the men’s bunks had never been slept in. Their pilot returned to Wawa and it was reported to Wawa Detachment. It was obvious from the pilot’s report that something had happened to the two men. Either they had become lost or something more serious had happened. Because of the rugged wilderness involved and the isolation of this area a search was in order.

Myself as search coordinator and the Detachment Commander Sergeant Lorne Neve implemented a plan for logistics. We took into consideration the area concerned, equipment needed, tools, maps, flagging tape, axes and shovels, transportation, supplies for accommodation, food, cooking, and manpower. By the late 70’s most Detachments had some personnel who were trained in Search and Rescue work. A request was made to White River and Hornepayne Detachment for volunteers and trained personnel. A similar request was made to the Wawa Ministry of Natural Resources for men and assistance with transportation and tents, sleeping and cooking equipment. A telephone call was placed to Mac Nicholson the director of the Sault Ste Marie Search and Rescue Centre for assistance with their manpower. I should mention that this group is a completely volunteer organization, which book time off work without pay and volunteer their services. A request was also made for the attendance of the OPP Helicopter. Finally a grocery list was compiled to feed out search team. Our Detachment Custodian at that time was Brian Ringrose. Brian Volunteered to be our search team’s Cook.

Late on the afternoon of the 17th., White River Air Service flew Constables Tex Luoma, Don Lewko , Don Harrison and myself in to the location of the outpost cabin. We took along a small amount of food, sleeping bags and personal equipment. On our arrival we found the dead moose hanging behind the camp. It was obvious that the men had not been back to the camp since their arrival and they had made a change of clothing. A quick reconnoiter along the north side of the lake was made just prior to dark and we located where the cow moose had been taken and some tracks. I remember that there was some concern about who was going to get the two bunks. There was no worry though as we located some used lumber behind the camp and each bunk was extended to allow two members at each bunk. Lol.

On the morning of the 18th, the OPP Helicopter arrived from Toronto with two pilots aboard, Constables Norm Kerr and Dwayne Sedgwick. Additional members arrived from Sault Ste Marie Search and Rescue. Members of Wawa Ministry of Natural Resources, White River and Hornepayne Detachments. A line search was commenced from the location where the moose had been killed. A line search requires a fair amount of discipline.

The leader on the outside of the line runs on a compass line marking his progress with marking tape as he moves along. The man on the other end of the line also marks our passage with marking tape and keeps a tally of the distance travelled. The remaining members form a line off of the leader. Each person must keep and equal distance from his neighbour, depending on the terrain, this distance is usually 6 to 10 feet. Additionally the line must be kept as straight as possible. If anything is observed eg. tracks broken branches, article of clothing or any of item that would indicated someone’s passage. Then the line would be halted and the leader or other appointed person would be responsible for checking the item out, recording its location and when satisfied start the line again.

When a predetermined distance has been covered the line is reversed and ran parallel to the first line with the first man in the line following the marking tape and the person on the outside of the line again marking the outside line with marking tape and doing a tally. In this search, two members were dispatched to the north to the Hydro Line with instructions to run on a fixed bearing and mark their trail with flagging tape to checkout the Power Line right of way for any sign. The remaining members were used on the line search.

The exception being Brian Ringrose and one other person who remained at the campsite to set up accommodation and a cooking area.
It was early on in the search when the force helicopter spotted something red in the thick bush. The item was just slightly ahead of the search line. This turned out to be one of the lost hunter’s hunting cap placed on top of a stump. The dead calf moose was located a short distance away. Tracks were located on the west side of our search area later that day which caused us to lean our search towards the southwest.

I believe it was on the third day the search line located a man made shelter and parts of a flashlight and the remains of a partridge cleaning, approximately two miles to the south west of the fly-in camp. The search was continued with indications the two individuals had moved south then east.
The fourth day as I remember was pretty uneventful with the search team working south and east from the location of fly-in camp and south of the lake.

I remember later in the afternoon of the fourth day the helicopter had to return to Wawa to pick up a reload of fuel. We were in the air ahead of the search team and I radioed into Wawa Detachment with instructions to the dispatcher to advise Sergeant Neve that I had a special request for additional groceries.

The team was working under very difficult conditions. The work was very tiring and uncomfortable. At times they would be walking on the ice through the ponds and muskeg at others they would be climbing cliffs. At other times they would break through the ice and get wet. I wanted to keep their spirits up and as I had done on other searches I tried to get them a little treat. One of the requests for groceries was kind of coded as much of the district could hear my radio broadcast. So my simple instructions were to request Sergeant Neve to pick up two dozen brown eggs from the In an Out Store. When we completed the area we were searching we returned for the much needed fuel and groceries. When we landed, Sergeant Neve met us with the groceries and when I looked there were two dozen white eggs. I explained to Lorne what my request had been and he was somewhat discussed, as the dispatcher had failed to give my description. (Two dozen brown eggs from the In and Out Store.) He had simply written down 2 doz. Eggs.

The matter was quickly solved as Constable Jeff Lamb was off duty, had seen the helicopter landing and had dropped into the airport to see how we were doing. He made a quick trip with his Harley and retrieved the case of beer for us. I will never forget the looks of the scene when I returned to the fly-in camp. Brian Ringrose had built himself a circular stone fireplace. He had cut up a bunch of white birch and burnt it down to a huge pile of red charcoal coals. He had barbecued pork chops to a golden perfection. Everyone was gathered around sitting on the rock waiting for supper. There was enough beer to go a round. Everyone was smiling and tired but satisfied.

The following day Norm and Dwayne were searching and area south and east from our campsite when the observed the lost hunters on top of a cliff. There was no open landing spot, so they elected to do a hovering pick-up. This is somewhat difficult, but I am sure it would be somewhat easier when there were two pilots to fly talk and observe. These two men in my opinion were the two best helicopter pilots I had flown with. I remember Dwayne telling me afterwards that he was somewhat concerned as the two men had been lost for thirteen days under very difficult conditions. No food, no heat and improperly clothed. Many men in these circumstances might be effected mentally. Well; here they are hovering with just one skid touching the edge of the cliff. The one man climbed aboard okay but the other man rushed over still carrying his axe, they tried to get him to throw it away, but he wouldn’t. The two men did abandon their rifle, which had been of little use to them, but they kept the axe, which had probably saved their lives’. The two men were flown back to Wawa were they were admitted to the Lady Dunn Hospital. The one man who had lost his voice was okay after a couple of days. They had some injuries to their feet but other than that were fine after a couple of days. As I have said before they were charged and convicted for hunting out of season. Following my interview at the hospital I never heard from them again.

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