Sgt Christina Wilkins, left, briefs reporters on the search for three people missing on Great Slave Lake on May 18, 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Police have halted their search for three missing people on Great Slave Lake after a body was seen “in a large area of open water.”
RCMP made the announcement on the evening of Saturday, the search’s fifth day.
The identity of the deceased person has not been confirmed. Family members of the missing have been notified.
“The investigation will continue as an open missing persons file,” said police.
Sam Boucher, 65, his 23-year-old daughter Cammy, and a third person who remains unidentified were reported overdue on Tuesday.
They had set off from Dettah for Łutselk’e aboard a 1990s-era snowmobile and two toboggans late on Monday.
With ice conditions on the lake rapidly deteriorating in the heat, search and rescue teams were forced to spend the intervening days scouring the lake from the air.
Helicopters and planes flew for more than 20,000 km in total, covering virtually the entire lake, during a five-day operation.
In a statement on Saturday, police said a helicopter patrol on Thursday evening had “spotted debris” in open water.
On Friday, the helicopter made another pass of the same area and officers “observed a deceased person in the open water near the debris.”
Police said they were unable to land given the condition of the nearby ice, but “collected evidence through aerial photographs to confirm a deceased person was in the water.” (A spokesperson later said the investigation had not progressed enough for this information to be made public during a police news conference held later that day, in which no mention of the body was made.)
Efforts to identify the deceased person are ongoing, said RCMP. Officers are working on a plan to return and extract the body as soon as possible, but rapidly changing conditions are complicating that process.
Cammy Boucher, 23, is seen in an image uploaded to her Facebook profile in 2014. She and her father are among the missing.
“Our hearts are with the families of the missing persons. We are sorry to bring this tragic news to them and we will continue to support them,” said Staff Sergeant Yannick Hamel, Yellowknife RCMP’s operations manager.
Police said the sighting, coupled with no other sign of the missing travellers despite days of searching, meant “all viable search options have been exhausted” and the air search is now suspended.
“We understand the desire to bring these travellers home but, due to the deteriorating ice conditions, we stress that no-one should venture out on the ice,” said Hamel, restating RCMP’s concern that treacherous conditions could endanger anyone attempting to reach the scene on foot.
Police said efforts to positively identify the third member of the party continue. The NWT coroner’s office has been called in to investigate, while the cases will remain missing persons’ files for the time being.
“Should anyone have further information, or see anything that could be related to the missing persons, RCMP encourage them to bring the information to their local detachment,” read Saturday’s police statement.
“If further evidence comes to light, lifting the air search suspension may be re-evaluated.”