STEPHENVILLE  For Richard Joy and his snowmobiling companion Guy Greenham, a break in Saturday afternoon’s storm was like “an answer to a prayer” and provided a small window for rescuers to spot them.

It was the end of an ordeal that could have went very differently had they not been spotted then, about a half an hour before dark.

Joy, from Corner Brook and Greenham, a resident of Deer Lake, went for what was supposed to be a short trip into Lewis Hills on Saturday morning and were heading out when the weather closed in on them creating conditions of zero visibility at times.

“We experienced some free falling over a few drops and ended up having to walk in front of our sleds to see where we could drive them. There were no visible landmarks and we couldn’t find trees for shelter,” he said.

They finally came upon a stream and decided to make a snow shelter there by digging into the side of a bank, which Greenham worked at it while Joy rode to some higher ground to text a couple of his friends to let them know they were in trouble.

The friends, Barry Jenkins and Kirk Watkins, contacted the RCMP who in turn contacted the Stephenville-Kippens-Port au Port Search and Rescue Inc., who started a search right after getting the 1:30 p.m. call.

Joy said while they had cellphones with them, unfortunately he had left his Global Positioning System (GPS) device at home by accident, so they had no way to let people know where they were located, especially since everything was pretty well a whiteout.

“We knew when we left home there was a bit of snow in the forecast, but we had no idea that kind of storm was going to pop up. It came in earlier than was forecasted,” he said.

It was late in the afternoon when the sky cleared and although they were preparing the snow hut to stay for the night, they took the chance of leaving that area to be spotted.

“It was like a window in the sky and we could see around us for the first time in the day,” Joy said.

“Luckily we saw the rescue people in the distance and if that sky hadn’t opened up, we would have been there for the night.”

Gerry Clark, co-ordinator for the search and rescue team, confirmed the weather was very poor when members of the search team and the two friends of the lost duo conducted the search, with visibility at less than 20 metres most of the time.

For them, it was some three hours into the search when the sky broke for no more than 20 minutes. Leading up to this, the search team had been texting Joy and Greeham for more than an hour, trying to get some idea of their location.

Clark said since the storm was so intense, trying to find a landmark for either party was difficult.

When the sky broke, Joy and Greeham said they were “east of the open sky and they could see a small creek.” This was enough to give searchers a possible location, so the search and rescue team went to the top of one of the mountains for a vantage point and within a few minutes a light appeared in the distance and the search team signaled.

The light disappeared and then reappearing were two lights, so the searchers signaled again. As both groups approached each other, the storm set upon them again.

Clark said his search team have traveled some 110 kilometres round trip in very difficult conditions and were pleased to bring a happy ending to this event.

Joy said while Greeham had made a good shelter, he was happy enough to have slept in his own bed that night.

Joy and Greenham are both thankful to their friends, Barry and Kirk, for the role they played, as well as the seven members of the Stephenville-Kippens-Port au Port Search and Rescue Team.

“The boys were pretty good and it’s good to see people that would risk their own lives to help someone in the situation found ourselves in,” Joy said on behalf of him and Greenham. “We were good and damp and had we had to lay around for the night, it would have been challenging.”

“While we were going through all this I couldn’t help but think about what the young fellow (14-year-old Burton Winters) in Labrador who perished on the ice last month. I now have a new respect for Lewis Hills and I’ll never go back there again without a clear forecast and a GPS,” he said.

While Joy had been to Lewis Hills on several occasions in the past, it was Greeham’s first trip into that area.

-Courtesy of the Western Star