1 man dead, another canoer missing on Athabasca River north of Fort MacKay

FILE: A helicopter in air over the Athabasca River near Fort McMurray, Alta., Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

One man was found dead and another is missing after they were separated from the rest of their group while canoeing on a stream in far northeastern Alberta over the May long weekend.

Wood Buffalo RCMP responded to a report of two missing canoers on the Ells River, a stream that flows into the Athabasca River north of Fort MacKay, just after noon on Saturday.

The two missing canoers — a man in his 80s and a 45-year-old man who police said were both locals to Fort McMurray — were in a red, 16-foot-long canoe.

Police said they were paddling as part of a group of six canoes and a kayaker, and had been on the stream for about an hour, when the group lost sight of the two men.

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That’s when police were called and a search party moved in.

RCMP said a boat and ground search was conducted by Wood Buffalo RCMP, Fort McMurray Search and Rescue, EMS, STARS Air Ambulance, Syncrude search and rescue, and Fort McMurray-based Phoenix Heli-Flight.

Further ground searches were also done by area community members, police said.

Searchers found the overturned canoe and the body of the 80-year-old man around 4:15 p.m. Saturday. Police have been in contact with the elderly man’s next of kin, but his identity has not been released.

As of Monday afternoon, the other man has not been found. Search efforts are continuing with the support of Edmonton-based volunteer aviation association Civil Air Search and Rescue (CASARA) and the RCMP air service, Wood Buffalo RCMP said.

The search has been expanded to the Athabasca River, which the stream flows into.

Wood Buffalo RCMP are asking anyone on the Athabasca River in the area of the search to remain clear so the crews can do their work, and to keep an eye out for signs of the missing boater.

Mounties said both men in the red canoe were described as wearing personal flotation devices/life jackets. The missing canoer was wearing an orange PFD, police added.

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Wood Buffalo RCMP are asking anyone who thinks they may have seen the male occupant of the red canoe between May 21 and May 23 to contact police.

Anonymous information can be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or online.

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