Search for U.S. fishermen missing in Nunavut since July 29 called off
Outfitter: the two fishermen are “missing and presumed dead"
(Updated Aug. 6, 7 a.m)
After more than two days of aerial searches for two fishermen from Michigan who went missing July 29 on Dubawnt Lake, Nunavut Search and Rescue called off the effort to find the two men Aug. 1.
The men, identified as a father in his 70s and a son in his 40s, failed to show up for a rendezvous with aircraft from their hired outfitter, police said.
Nunatsiaq News has learned that the two men are Earl Zellen, a retired Ford executive, and his son Matt Zellen, who owns a store, Detroit Outfitters, in Warren, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.
Their boat was found on the shoreline, its motor in the water and still in gear, with its fuel tank empty.
“All their communication and survival equipment, with floater suits were in the boat,” said Paul Kotelewetz, of Ookpik Aviation in Baker Lake, which provided an airplane for the search effort.
Searchers decided early Aug. 1 to call off the search, said Kotelewetz.
“Taking into account the survival time in cold water and the fact that neither of the people were wearing PFDs [personal floatation devices], all decided there was nothing to be done,” he said.
“The two fishermen — residents of the United States — were on a fishing trip and were last seen fishing close to the lodge on Monday, July 29,” reads the Aug. 1 statement by Curt Enns, owner of Tukto Lodge.
“After an exhaustive search, an unoccupied boat was found approximately eight kilometres from the camp. Unfortunately, the fishermen were not located in the area,” Enns said in the statement.
On Aug. 1 “the proprietors of Tukto Lodge were advised by law enforcement that ongoing search efforts have been called off and that the focus will now be on the recovery of the bodies,” Enns stated.
Police are now treating the incident as a “missing persons” case, said Cpl. Yvonne Niego of RCMP’s V division in Iqaluit.
“Our file remains active,” said Niego.
Nunavut’s Protection Services division and the federal Joint Rescue Coordination Centre called off further aerial searches, she added.
Canadian Forces had sent two Hercules aircraft in the evening of July 30 and morning of July 31. Small planes also provided short-range assistance throughout the same two days.
Ookpik lent a Twin Otter for the effort. The small aircraft surveyed southern areas of the lake for six hours on July 30 and eight hours straight on July 31, according to Kotelewetz, general manager and vice-president of the company.
“It was quite and extensive search,” Kotelewetz said.
The aircraft flew 15 to 90 metres (50 to 300 feet) from the surface of the lake, he said.
“They were really combing the area,” he added. The aircraft was gliding low enough for some rescuers to come back with comments about large fish they had seen in the water.
Equipped for dry landings on shorelines, the aircraft refueled periodically on dry land.
“They were looking for anything that might be submerged or semi-submerged, or washed up on shore,” Kotelewetz said. “No sign of anything.”
He described the fishermen’s abandoned boat as a 4.5 to 5.5 metre-long (16- to 18-foot) Lundt, driven by a 40-horsepower Honda motor. Life jackets were found positioned in the boat “to be used as seat cushions,” he said.
Searchers assumed the men most likely fell in the water, he added, based on the configuration of the boat.
The lake, located nearby the Nunavut border with the Northwest Territories, and some 250 km from the nearest community of Baker Lake, is clear and free of ice.
“It’s not covered with ice, but it’s very deceiving right now,” he said, adding that temperatures in the lake are much the same as ice water.
Members of the family who have been in contact with Nunatsiaq News said the two had fished before at the lake, known for its lake trout.
“My brother Matt felt very strongly that this was something to do with my dad each year my dad was still able,” Mike Zellen told the Detroit Free Press in an Aug. 6 story after Nunatsiaq News gave the Detroit paper a tip-off.
Mike Zellen said Matt also shared that love of the outdoors with his own children, three-year-old twins.
Matt Zellen is survived by his children, his wife of seven years, Debbie. Earl Zellen is survived by his wife of 42 years, Linda and a third son, David.
“They had a wonderful relationship. Their lives were intertwined,” Mike Zellen told the Detroit Free Press of his dad and his brother.
The family has a private memorial planned for Aug. 9 with a mass scheduled for Aug. 10, the newspaper reported.