Calgary woman part of expedition rescued off ice floe for $2.7M now planning snorkel relay …

An Alberta woman whose previous snorkelling expedition to the Arctic resulted in a $2.7-million rescue by the Canadian Forces is planning an all-woman snorkel relay through the Northwest Passage.

Kelly McParland: Adventure tourist, save thyself

It’s common practice in Canada for health authorities to charge patients a fee to be rushed to hospital by ambulance.

The Canada Health Act doesn’t require the provinces to pay for ambulance services. Most cover it with heavy subsidies, and a variety of exemptions for elderly or low-income patients. But most also expect patients to cover a share of their own transportation, even if it was needed to save their lives. The fees range, depending on costs and subsidies: Ontario charges $45 if the ambulance was deemed necessary, $240 if not. Nova Scotia bills $142.30 for “medically essential transports.” B.C. charges $80 if a patient is transported, $50 if the rise is refused or not required.

That being the case, why would Canadians be expected to pick up the full tab to rescue a party of tourists who ran into trouble on an expensive adventure tour to the far North?

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“If you can envision a swimming relay where one woman goes in and one woman goes out, it will be a snorkel relay,” said Susan Eaton, a Calgary-based oil and gas consultant, and self-described “extreme snorkeller.”

Starting in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, the 10 members of the expedition will spend 100 days snorkelling their way through the Arctic archipelago, using diver-propulsion vehicles and ending up in Inuvik, NWT.

A Zodiac-equipped mother ship, packed with artists, scientists and Inuit representatives, will shadow the group. The whole voyage is expected to cost $1.5-million.

Ten women, ranging in age from 26 to 56, have already signed on — six Canadians, two Americans, one New Zealander and one Mexican.

Although the expedition will not set out until 2016, Ms. Eaton will be in the North this summer to conduct “proof of concept” tests of the equipment.

It will also be an opportunity to jump-start what she called one of her chief goals — “cross-cultural” engagement with the Inuit.

“Because it’s a team of all-women, we’re going to be reaching out to Inuit women and girls, discussing things ranging from societal change in their communities to climate change,” she said.

Last summer, Ms. Eaton was among 10 international tourists who travelled in the Arctic to snorkel with bowhead whales off the coast of Baffin Island but became stranded on a drifting ice floe.

According to government documents obtained by the National Post via the Access to Information Act, their rescue by Canadian Forces cost $2,748,046. This included $2,270,282 to deploy five rescue aircraft and airdrops of three $23,000 survival kits, which were never used.

Despite the military’s large-scale response, the group was never in any immediate danger and waited out the rescue in relatively luxurious conditions: hot showers, two executive chefs and heated tents.

Dean Bicknell/Postmedia News

As rescue aircraft were deployed, “our group of ecotourists kept its spirits high by delivering presentations on ocean conservation and Antarctic exploration,” Ms. Eaton wrote in a recently-published account of the rescue.

“Quite fittingly — perhaps, even, as an unplanned symbol — I delivered a lecture on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-16.”

In the same account, published last Saturday in Calgary’s Swerve magazine, she acknowledged the criticism stirred up by taxpayers footing the bill “for what might be viewed as a frivolous activity by a wealthy few.”

Although the group had air rescue insurance, members were never charged for the rescue because “no negligence or fraud” were involved.

“It was just a perfect storm of events that broke the ice away from the land where it was holding fast,” Ms. Eaton said Tuesday.

Given the new expedition will be mounted from a boat, the likelihood members will need to be rescued is much lower — and she will once again buy rescue insurance.

“I don’t think the two expeditions are comparable, but what is comparable is that everything is dynamic, ice is dynamic …  whether you’re on a boat or close to shore, things can happen,” she said.

National Post, with files from Adrian Humphreys

Stephen Henshall/Swerve

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