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Samuel Roberts, left, and Mark Elson. Photos: RCMP handouts

In their own words, how two men got lost on Great Slave Lake

Two Yellowknife men who were rescued from an island on Great Slave Lake over the weekend say they’re glad to be home safe.

Samuel Roberts, 65, said he and his friend Mark Elson, 51, one of the owners of Bullocks Bistro, headed out on the lake on Thursday to check out areas where Elson could go commercial fishing. He said they also stopped at an island to look for berries.

“I couldn’t believe that there are no cranberries this year,” Roberts said. “We walked down this island and we never saw a thing, not one berry.”

When the pair decided to return home, the men said smoke made it difficult to navigate and they unintentionally headed east instead of north. While they couldn’t tell where they were at the time, the men ended up at one of the Cabin Islands, about 40 kilometres southeast of Yellowknife.

“We still don’t know what happened other than smoke came in and we got turned around,” Elson said. “It’s almost like magical, someone picked us up and plopped us down where we landed.”



“We were a little bit off track, there was no doubt about that,” Roberts said. “There was nothing there that looked familiar to me.”

While Roberts said he normally packs things like a tent and food when he goes out on the lake, this time, they hadn’t planned to be away for that long.

That night, the men slept on the rocks by a fire. The following night, Roberts said they made a lean-to as it was windy and cold.

“You’ve got to make the best of what you got,” he said.



The men had just a pack of peanuts and a few granola bars between them, which Roberts said they tried to ration. On Saturday morning, Elson said they managed to down a wild chicken with a rock, which they killed with a paddle, plucked and roasted over the fire.

“It was the best tasting chicken in the world,” he said.

Elson described the time they spent on the island waiting for rescue as emotional and “soul searching.” He said he was damp, hungry, thirsty, and mentally and physically exhausted.

“It’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody. Not even my worst enemy,” he said.

Roberts said he wasn’t too worried as they were OK, given the circumstances, and he expected they would be found.

After the men did not return home on Thursday night as planned, a search began early on Friday morning. At 5pm on Saturday, RCMP said two days of searching by water and air had not uncovered any signs of the missing men and they would try again on Sunday. Two hours later, however, they announced the pair were located by a Civil Air Search and Rescue Association flight.

Elson said it was a relief when the plane noticed him waving from the boat by the shore. Before the Canadian Coast Guard came to rescue them by boat, he said hunters in Drybones Bay brought them water and sandwiches. He said those hunters ended up taking them to the Coast Guard vessel, as the area was too rocky for that boat to reach the island.

The men arrived back in Yellowknife late on Saturday evening. Elson described getting to go home as a similar feeling to seeing your firstborn.

“You feel a little bit ashamed of yourself for doing something like that,” Roberts said. “But when you get lost, you’re lost.”