The body of a missing Winnipeg man was found after a seven-day search out on the ice by a Hutterite dive team in Kenora.
Harold Slegers went missing in early Nov. 2020. Police dive teams weren't immediately able to find him in their search of Pelican Pouch Lake.
That's when friends and family turned to the Hutterites.
"We've experienced personal loss here at our colony, and we formed a dive team to help other colonies recover drowning victims," says Paul Maendel, who works with the Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team (HEART).
After the call, the team determined they could perform the search, but they had to wait for the ice to thicken in the area.
Maendel says Ontario Provincial Police had performed an extensive search but had not been able to find Slegers.
The HEART team employs the use of technology to prevent having to send divers under the ice.
"It's extremely challenging. That's why we don't do it," he said.
Divers in the water can only proceed by feel, as they can only see two or three feet ahead. In contrast, the submersible picked up the body 70 feet away.
"It has sonar on it. It has lights. It has a camera and it has a manipulator arm," says Maendel. "This allows us to go under the ice and start conducting lake floor surveys."
After a survey of the lake floor, the team divided it into 300-foot search areas. Some overlap allowed them to be thorough as they carried out the search.
The search team began their work just three days after Christmas. They came back for two more days after New Years', and then again on Jan. 6 through Jan. 8.
After drilling 20 holes on the seventh day of their search, the team finally located the missing Winnipegger's remains. Using the manipulator arm of the submersible, HEART brought the lengthy recovery mission to an end.
The team gets several requests for help with similar cases but isn't always able to respond. Maendel says winter recovery missions can be extremely dangerous and slow.
During another recovery two years ago, HEART was able to make their first recovery without a dive team while searching for the bodies of two snowmobilers lost along the Winnipeg River near Sagkeeng First Nation.
The team was able to locate both victims using the subesible. That's when they got support from other Hutterite colonies and private donors to purchase the technology.
The VideoRay Pro 5 has helped the team with two more recoveries and they now use sonar and cameras in their missing person searches.
It allows the team to search in spite of unideal conditions, giving families closure as soon as possible instead of having to wait for the spring thaw.
The team sees their work as part of their Christian mission and they offer their help free of charges.
They do accept donations to assist with their mission. Any donations received go directly to the costs of the HEART team.