ON NEW YEAR’S EVE IN 2015, Sam Hunter set out to go camping near his home on Weenusk First Nation, about 35 kilometres south of Hudson Bay in Ontario’s Far North.
After spending a night in the bush, Hunter, who has lived on this land for most of his 53 years, went to look for dry wood. As he drove across what appeared to be a frozen river, the surface suddenly gave way and his Yamaha Bravo snowmobile plunged through the ice. Hunter was thrown through the windshield and barely avoided falling into the rushing water below. A sleigh attached to the back of the snowmobile was the only thing that prevented it from fully sinking into the water.
As he tried to wrench his machine free, Hunter found that he was standing on ice suspended several feet above the fast-rushing river. Hunter says it was as if the ice was “hanging on air.”
Such air gaps are a phenomenon that have appeared in recent years, he says. Increased rainfall in the late autumn swells rivers and lakes beyond their historic levels. As the weather gets colder, the top several inches of the surface freezes, while the water below drops back to its normal level, creating a gap. The sheets of suspended ice look deceptively solid.
Hunter used a satellite communicator to send a text message with his GPS co-ordinates. It took several hours for a Canadian Ranger search-and-rescue team to get to him.
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