Manitoba Snowstorm: Waiting for Rescue
Exhaustion washed over Ernest Castel. Outside, the Manitoba snowstorm was still swirling, covering his Nissan SUV in a white blanket. For the past three nights, the 46-year-old addiction counsellor and his five companions had huddled in the vehicle, their sole sanctuary from the -40 C weather. It wouldn’t be a warm refuge for much longer—their gas had finally run out.
Now, just 50 kilometres from the town of Leaf Rapids but stranded on a snowbound northern Manitoba road, Castel’s strength was ebbing. That morning, he and his brother, John Linklater, had left the safety of the SUV and set out on a gruelling trek for help. With no cell service available on the isolated road, they had to find another way to contact the outside world.
They’d trudged through waist-deep snow for hours, searching for a communication tower they were sure was a few kilometres up from their vehicle on the buried Provincial Road 391. They’d eventually found the tower, which had a phone, allowing them to reach the RCMP. But by the time they’d returned to the SUV to wait for rescue, night was falling. The brothers crawled back inside, aching and soaked with sweat. For over an hour, Castel had sat bundled in his parka but still shivering.
He wasn’t shivering anymore—and that worried him. When the body’s core temperature drops, it shakes urgently as it fights to regain heat. If the shivering stops, that can mean the hypothermia is moving into a much more dangerous phase. Castel looked over at Linklater, hunched in the passenger seat beside him. His brother wasn’t shivering either.
In the back of the SUV, the four other passengers quietly listened to music on an iPad. There was Marie Colomb, Castel’s mother, who had stuffed plastic bags between her feet and her boots in a desperate effort to ward off the cold. And there was the trio they’d come across in another stranded vehicle: Castel’s nephew, Gordon Colomb; Gordon’s girlfriend, Nicole Dawn Halkett; and their friend Corey Hart.
Outside the SUV’s windows, darkness loomed. It all seemed so peaceful, Castel thought, and he was so sleepy. He fought to stay awake, knowing that sleeping while hypothermic can be deadly, but his eyelids were so heavy.
As sleep took hold, Castel turned to Linklater. “Well, brother,” Castel said. “It’s been good.” Beside him, Linklater stirred. “Yes, brother,” he replied. “It’s been good.” Then they closed their eyes, not knowing if they would open them again.
Read “A Deadly Snowstorm” for the tale of the hundreds of motorists stuck in an Ontario blizzard in 2010.