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James Bay: October 1999

Two large, heavily laden canoes, on their way to a hunting camp of James Bay overturned in the frigid waters. Three people made it to shore safely, but eight others had not. OVSARDA deployed two search dog teams to Moose Factory at the request of the Moose Factory Fire and Rescue.

Aboard the helicopter

The intent was to search the waters of James Bay for the drowned victims from a boat but the winds and waves were too high to permit this. Instead the dogs were put on assigned to patrol the shorelines, using on-shore winds to search the waters just off shore. The teams searched for three days under extremely adverse conditions. The tidal flats were very large, in some places 10kms deep, and teams had to be constantly checking the direction of the tide to make sure they did not get caught too far out. The winds were up to 50 km/hr, with rain. The search area was comprised of approximately 80 miles of shoreline, and it had to re-searched after every high tide, as if it had never been searched before. The dogs were always wet and suffered from mild to moderate hypothermia within 30 minutes of going out into the search area.

The dogs did not locate any of the missing people, though all bodies have since been recovered. Most bodies were located within a few kilometers of the Last Known Point. However, several floated up on shorelines 15-40kms away from the site of the accident.

This search was particularly demanding as the dogs had were constantly faced with things they had not seen before. Travel was via commercial airline, helicopter, truck, train and ATV. They traveled in crates, lying on the floor, in the handlers' laps and in the laps of strangers. They were swarmed by children in the airport. Accommodations included private homes, hotels, and hunting cabins. The dogs were on their best behaviour throughout, demonstrating the quality of their training and their temperaments, and their adaptability in the face of adversity.