The decision to wait until spring to recover the body of a Manitoba snowmobiler feared drowned after breaking through lake ice in Whiteshell Provincial Park this weekend is heartbreaking for both for the man’s family and those working to find him, a retired police diver says.
Dan LeMay, 50, was reported missing after failing to return home from a snowmobile trek through the park Sunday.
After days of searching, efforts were called off late Tuesday when teams found snowmobile tracks leading to broken ice and open water on Eleanor Lake.
Manitoba RCMP have said it’s currently too dangerous to send a dive team in the water to search for LeMay’s body.
“When you have the police make a determination that it’s not safe … that of course impacts the family and friends. But it impacts the searchers and, if divers are involved, the divers, because they’re in that function to perform a recovery and that’s their job,” said Ken Lugg, a former Winnipeg police diver.
“It’s tremendously frustrating for them when conditions won’t allow them to do what they’ve trained many years to be able to do.”
LeMay’s brother, Wayne LeMay, told Global News this week his brother was a kind man who spent a lot of time outside.
Wayne believes his brother probably got disoriented and likely wound up on the dangerous section of the lake unknowingly, after heading in the wrong direction.
“He was on a section of the river, really, that no sled should’ve been on and never would’ve seen the water,” he said.
Lugg, who spent 32 years with Winnipeg police, says it’s likely those same dangerous ice conditions that are forcing police to call off underwater recovery efforts.
“We’ve of course had a fairly mild winter, so you have to first look at — someone’s gone through the ice, apparently, and that’s indicating weak ice,” Lugg said.
“If you have weak ice … the number one thing that has to be considered is the safety of those involved that are going to do the search.
“If they can’t do it safely, then you’re going to be endangering lives to do that search.”
Lugg says dive teams come with hundreds of pounds of equipment and, as well as the divers, others need to stay on the surface to support the search efforts.
“The thing is the divers need a platform to work from, and in the winter, if we have a nice cold winter, nothing’s better than a sheet of ice to work from — you can put equipment and manpower personnel on the ice — and you can conduct it safely, as dangerous as ice-diving can be,” he explained.
“Obviously the determination has been made that that ice won’t support safely with a calculation that it must be absolutely safe for those people to go on that ice.”
While Lugg said police have likely marked the spot where they think LeMay went under with GPS, he says the longer they have to wait, the harder the work will be.
“There’s moving water currents in there, it’s part of a river system, these lakes, and the ice isn’t what it would be on a quieter lake or a pond,” he said.
“It can be grim work, and the longer that this goes on, probably the grimmer it will get for those involved.”
In the meantime Wayne LeMay says the his brother, a father of three, is still officially listed as a missing person.
“We know that this is going to be an ongoing thing, we don’t really know how it’s going to unfold.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family.
— With files from Joe Scarpelli