‘Fake’ distress call from North cost Canadian Armed Forces $88K in search costs

Search and rescue teams board a Hercules aircraft in Yellowknife on Jan. 10 to search for a snowmobiler who reported himself missing. The RCMP subsequently deemed that the report was false. (Submitted by Shai Topaz)
A week and a half-long search for a missing snowmobiler, which turned out to be based on a false call, cost the Canadian Armed Forces almost $88,000, according to an official.

RCMP in Hay River, Northwest Territories, said they received a distress call just before midnight on Jan. 7 from a man claiming to be lost on his snowmobile. The line was poor and it was difficult to make out what he was saying, but police identified him as 20-year-old Shawn Lafferty.

Last week, police said they had determined the call was “fake.” RCMP say they are still investigating who made the call.

Police said it came from a tower near Behchoko and the man was believed to be in the area of Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Providence, Behchoko or Whati.

Shortly after they received the call on Jan. 7, police launched air and ground searches for the missing man, focusing on areas with cabins.

A searcher looks out the door of a Hercules aircraft. The aircraft was sent from Winnipeg to help in the search. (Shai Topaz)
Helicopters scrambled

Two days later, the Royal Canadian Air Force sent a CC-130 Hercules aircraft from Winnipeg, along with a seven-person crew to help with the search.

Lt. Jeff Lura, with the Canadian Armed Forces, told CBC News that the cost of the 13.5 hour flight was just under $88,000.

“Thankfully, though a response turned out to be unnecessary in this case, it did not jeopardize any other [search and rescue] demands with the region,” Lura wrote in an email.

Local volunteers with the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association also took part in the operation. Over two days, nine volunteers spent more than 10 hours looking for the missing snowmobiler.

Behchoko RCMP wouldn’t say how many of its officers were involved in the search or how much it cost.

Could face prison time

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, anyone who makes a false report like this one can be charged with public mischief and, if convicted, could spend up to five years in prison.

Two years ago in Saskatchewan a woman was convicted of public mischief after helping her husband fake his own death. For days, searchers, aircraft and an underwater dive team looked for the man, who was actually living 130 kilometres away.

His wife, Michelle Ross, was sentenced to four months of house arrest and ordered to pay $10,000 to the Search and Rescue Saskatchewan Association of Volunteers to cover the cost of the search.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Rapid climate change requires stepped up Arctic coast guard co-operation: Canadian expert, Radio Canada International

Norway: Bodies of three skiers killed in avalanche recovered in Arctic Norway, Yle News

Sweden: Sweden’s Arctic rescue chopper fiasco, Radio Sweden

United States: Arctic nations deepen coast guard cooperation, Radio Canada International

Hilary Bird, CBC News

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