After surviving a brutal blizzard for five days by himself on the Canadian tundra, a Nunavut hunter was found by a rescue team and taken to a hospital in Winnipeg, where doctors amputated both of his frostbitten hands. The hunter, Ernie Kiinaalik Eetak, credits the traditional clothing he was wearing for saving his life, according to Nunavut News.
Eetak was only supposed to be gone for a day. He left his native village of Arviat on Dec. 3 and was following a herd of caribou when his snowmobile broke down roughly 48 kilometers outside the village. Darkness had already fallen, but Eetak could see the lights of Arviat, so he decided to leave his snowmobile and start walking toward home. Exhausted after a long day, the 41-year-old hunter sat down to rest but woke a short time later when a wolverine passed nearby. Eetak instantly realized that a blizzard had set in, and he followed his foot trail back to the snowmobile.
He tried building a small igloo, but soon lost his mittens in the whipping wind. He then turned his snowmobile on its side and built an improvised shelter with a basic tarp. By that point, temperatures in the area had plummeted to around -22°F. And aside from the tarp, the only things protecting Eetak from the elements were the traditional Inuit clothes that he wore: outerwear made from caribou hides and bearded seal skins, and a pair of sunglasses made from caribou antlers.
Eetak hunkered down and spent the next four days inside the makeshift shelter. Weeks after the harrowing experience, he would tell reporters that he “died for five days and came back to life.” On Dec. 8, the weather broke and the sun finally came out, and Eetak was able to continue walking toward home. He walked for about an hour until a rescue crew found him, and he was immediately medevaced to a hospital in Winnipeg.
Doctors there were able to save Eetak’s right eye, which had been damaged by ice, but both of his hands were severely frostbitten and had to be surgically removed. Despite the loss of his hands and the near-death experience he had on the tundra, Eetak is looking forward to venturing back out on the tundra to help feed his community.
While recovering at a hotel in Winnipeg, he told reporters, “I can’t wait to see my steel arms so I can go hunting again when I get back home.”