THE brother of a 47-year-old man who died in the frigid wilderness of northern Saskatchewan during a search for a missing man says alcohol was involved.
Benji Denechezhe said he found his brother Alphonse’s body and his barely conscious search companion Tuesday afternoon, two days after the pair set out to look for a missing man from Lac Brochet, Man., just across the boundary in Saskatchewan.
Alphonse Denechezhe’s search partner, Leonard Dettanikkeaze, 40, was in critical condition.
Police say the two searchers, part of the Lac Brochet Search and Rescue Rangers group, left Sunday. The man they were looking for was found safe by other searchers from Wollaston Lake, Sask., but the two Manitoba searchers didn’t return.
"They got stuck on the slush and they were also drinking," Benji Denechezhe said in an interview from Lac Brochet. "Somehow my brother fell asleep. When the other guy got up, my brother was already gone.
"It’s devastating. When it’s cold and you’re drinking out in the bush and there is nothing around, there are consequences."
The 40-year-old searcher who survived the frigid temperatures was taken to hospital in critical condition.
The Rangers operate under the Department of National Defence. They provide patrols and run search-andrescue missions in sparsely populated areas of Western Canada that cannot be conveniently or economically covered by the Canadian Armed Forces.
Capt. Steven Parker, the spokesman for the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, said Wednesday the searchers were off duty at the time, adding no request was received to do the mission.
Pierre Bernier, vice-principal of Petit Casimir Memorial School in Lac Brochet, is a member of the Rangers group and a close friend of Denechezhe, who has five children and several grandchildren.
"It’s been a tough few days. You see it in the faces of the kids here in school," Bernier said. "I have known these families for a while. Alphonse was a very good buddy, and Leonard is a good guy, too."
RCMP Sgt. Craig Cleary said it appears the snowmobile the men were using might have broken down.
"There was some indication that the snowmobile was experiencing some mechanical issues," Cleary said. "There is no doubt in my mind that the elements ... did definitely factor into how things turned out, unfortunately."
The RCMP couldn’t comment on whether alcohol was involved, but Cleary did say foul play is not suspected. An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.
Benji Denechezhe said his brother was well-known and liked in the community. The 47-year-old had recently toured with musician Neil Young, opening for him along with other Dene drummers as Young held a series of concerts to raise money for an Alberta First Nation.
Alphonse Denechezhe had been a Ranger for 10 years and knew how to survive in the wild, his brother said.
"He was very humorous," Denechezhe said. "He always had a smile and a joke to share with anybody. That’s the kind of person he was. That’s what I’m going to miss. Our family is very close. It’s a great loss to us."
Bernier said a toboggan being pulled by the snowmobile, loaded with supplies, was found on the other side of an island from where Alphonse’s body was discovered.
"They must have lost their toboggan because they didn’t have their equipment... when you’re that wet and cold, hypothermia settles in."
— The Canadian Press, with files from Jason Bell