This article was published in the May 26 issue of the Interlake Spectator…Long-time friends, Mike Langrell and Guy Fedora, both residents of St. Francis Xavier, set out on Lake Manitoba, back on March 11, 2011, to do a little ice fishing. It was a fine day, and mild enough that the lake was beginning to melt. The men’s six year old daughters, Morgan and Denica, who came along for some fun with their dads, splashed in the puddles as their fathers lowered their lines into the ice fishing holes.
“It was a super nice Friday. It was 2 degrees C. We just decided to go fishing. It was the only day we had. There was a blizzard warning, but not till later that day,” said Langrell, an experienced outdoorsman.
The four of them travelled on snow mobiles to a spot about 2.5 Km strait east of Laurentia Rd. in St. Laurent, arriving early in the afternoon. They brought along their usual ice-fishing gear, that included an electronic backtrack GPS locator, and set up at their friend’s ice shack. The shore line was well within view.
At about 4 p.m. the weather started to turn. The wind picked up dramatically. After shifting straight north, it started swirling around unpredictably. By 4:15 p.m. the group was engulfed in a full blizzard. They quickly packed their gear and headed to shore with the help of the backtrack locator, which normally would guide them safely back to their vehicle.
“(We were) following the GPS. Then, all of a sudden, it started spinning in circles. I knew I was 1.5 km from the truck, but I didn’t know which direction to go,” said Langrell. Taking a wrong turn could have been deadly in this wide open lake that spans 35 Km across at that point.
“If we had a normal compass, we would have been alright.”
After three quarters of an hour of keeping the fierce north wind at their backs, the group found their way to an ice shack and broke in to take shelter. Langrell had been able to call his wife on his cell phone. She called Dave Bruce, a local fisherman and family friend who owned the shack, and put in a call to the RCMP who were out on the lake looking for two other stranded men.
Langrell kept in telephone contact with several rescue parties all the while.
“It never gets reception out there; I think the good lord was watching over us. Normally cell service stops working at Woodlands,” he said.
“The girls didn’t understand the severity of the situation. We had lots of laughs. We tried to stay warm, but ran out of propane in the first 15 minutes. It went from plus 2 degrees, to minus 20. The guy who built the shack, built it phenomenally. I knew I could have pulled off the wood and burn it to keep warm if I had to.”
Just after 11 p.m. Langrell thought he saw a red light shining in the distance. Finally, at 12:15 a.m., rescuers had arrived after an evening of battling the elements, contending with whiteout conditions, and getting stuck repeatedly. Even the Bombardier ice fishing vehicles needed help digging out of the snow.
The group was taken safely to friends in St. Laurent, where they spent a comfortable night.
“We love fishing. We ain’t stopping fishing. The only thing we learnt out there is not to play with the weather,” said Langrell in retrospect.
“We made three critical errors the day of the blizzard: 1. We felt we could get off the Lake before the blizzard hit, 2. We brought our 6 year old daughters with us, and 3. We trusted an electronic backtrack locator to get us the 2.5 k back to the truck. To not have a normal compass with us was just asinine. We weren’t worried about it. We had a fancy locator,” said Langrell.
Langrell has since returned to St. Laurent to thank some of the people who helped with the rescue.
“I dropped off Tim Horton coffee cans, gas cards, and gift certificates. We just tried to say thanks, but there’s so many people,” said Langrell.
“I want to say a special thank you to all the boys who came out with the Bombardiers looking for us,” said Langrell, “It was nice to see Dave’s smiling face at 12:15 a.m., after trying to keep the girls warm for 7 hrs and 15 min. Dave had to literally break into the shack as the door was frozen and we were too cold to get up.”
“All the Emergency crews were awesome as they really took care of us once we were off the lake. The fire trucks and ambulances were really having a hard time getting around in the blizzard. Bob and Sherrill Bruce were waiting up for us until we arrived at around 2 a.m. They took special care of us and our girls, turning a crappy experience into a fond memory for them. The next day Dave and Yvonne Bruce took us in and helped us get our sleds off the ice and shared many stories of just how dangerous the lake can be. I want to thank the Bruce families for their unbelievable generosity and kindness. I also want to thank Denise and Kevin Coutu for buying ice cream for the girls.”
The rescue was truly a community effort. A long list of people were involved. The Langrell and Fedora families would like to thank all of the following people:
Local Fishermen, Lloyd Coutu, Marie Coutu, Audie Carriere, Mike Futros, Dave Bruce, Clarence Carriere, Julien Chartrand, Edgar Carriere Jr., and Vern Coutu; St. Laurent Fire Department members, Real Fontaine, Mo Emond, Jules Fontaine, Shawn Normand, Denise Coutu, Kevin Coutu, Loretta Sigurdson, JL Carriere, Roger Leclerc; The Warren Fire Department members, Eric Simundson and Steve Jones; RCMP members, Jason Oughton, Crystal Perry, and Chris Buckland; Lundar Ambulance personnel, Wayne Bustard, Misty Lundgren, Brendan McCurry, and Jenn Heroux; Al Bindle of Manitoba Conservation; and
St. Laurent Locals, Ricky Carriere, Ricky Coutu, and Mr and Mrs Bob Bruce, and the entire town of St. Laurent.
“We will be forever indebted to all the folks who helped us that night, we know just how dangerous things can get. We were very saddened to hear about the young man from Amaranth who passed away
(that same night) as we understand that we, too, could have shared the same fate,” said Langrell.