One dead, pair missing and two still survive

News of the North, Thursday, May 12, 1960

One man died by his own hand and two others are missing and are believed to be dead following two months of near starvation in the remote Nahanni River country.

Alex Melskonen is dead by his own hand, according to the two survivors. He used an estimated ten sticks of dynamite to blow himself up on March 17th, just two weeks after the party had expected to be picked up by a Wardair aircraft from Yellowknife and nearly two months after he had expected an aircraft he is said to have requested a visiting party of RCMP and the Game Warden to send in to get him.

Tommy Pappas and Orville Webb started to walk out of the camp on McMillan Lake on April 12th, carrying only their share of the remaining food and by agreement with the others in the party. They have not been heard from since.

Dean Rosswarren and John Richardson are alive and well in Yellowknife, Mr. Rosswarren in the hospital where he is making good progress toward recovery and Richardson who was not kept in the hospital, but is living at his home on Jolliffe Island.

Search is going on for the two missing men by ground and air. Efforts to locate a convenient helicopter, about the only practical means of transportation at this time of year had not been successful up to Thursday morning and Jack Norcross, trapper pilot of Nahanni Butte is flying over the desolate country in a search for the men.

Constable Vic Werbicki, RCMP, Fort Liard is going up the Nahanni River by canoe on a ground search for them.

Story told by survivor Dean Rosswarren tells of weeks of suffering in the camp.

The men were convinced when they left here that they would be picked up on March 3rd, he says. The winter had not been unpleasant, he claimed. They had built a warm log shack roofed with logs, moss and tarpaulin and were comfortable and warm. There was an ample supply of wood for fuel.

They had shot some caribou which made up their meat supply, he said, until they were visited by the game warden from Fort Simpson, Frank Bailley, who seems to have suspected them of trapping. The game warden returned in a few days, about January 12th, with Constable Werbicki, but no trace was found of furs, but the caribou which made up the camp’s meat cache was confiscated.

The caribou diet was relieved by the occasional squirrel and rabbit, but after the caribou had been taken away, the number of rabbits fell off and squirrels were only occasionally available. No fish were caught though the men tried.

At that time, according to Rosswarren, Melskonen made arrangements with the police for a plane to come in at once and pick him up as he wanted to get out of the camp.

No plane came, nor did anyone else, until the McAvoy boys came in on Saturday last to look for them.

“I owe my life to the McAvoys,” Rosswarren admits.

Food supplies, already endangered by the loss of the caribou, had been estimated to last some time beyond March 3rd, but finally disappeared leaving the men with only what they could shoot or catch. And this was very little.

On April 12th, Rosswarren says Pappas and Webb started to walk out. What ltitle food was left was divided evenly – and it was only a canful of meat from the dogs – and two men vanished into the bush.

Rosswarren says he and Richardson subsisted on what little they could get from the land and eventually ground up the bones of the dogs to make a kind of a paste which supplied some food and that they took the hair from the caribou skin and boiled the hide to a jelly like substance that gave some food “or at least it filled some of the cracks.” They tried roasting the meat like pork crackle but this, while edible, was “real tough.”

The McAvoys went in when people became alarmed that the men had not returned and break up was so close. They were guided to the exact spot by an SOS tramped out in the snow, but when they landed their plane is reported to have gone through the ice necessitating a great deal of hard handwork to turn it and take off again.

It would have been impossible to have landed there in another day according to Chuck McAvoy.

And thus another chapter in the story of the Nahanni has been written.