© Geraldine Brophy
Hedley Saunders, left, is seen with his son Rick at the Lohnes Complex on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.
Hedley Saunders is turning 90 today and, like he did five years ago, has a big party planned for tonight at the Lohnes Complex where he’s lived for 13 years.
But he doesn’t want any gifts. Instead the 122 invitations he’s made and mailed out himself — “no emails and texting” for him — ask partygoers to donate to the Bay of Islands Search and Rescue.
The last time around he donated $1,250 and several bags of groceries to the Bay of Islands Food Bank Network.
This time he’s told the search and rescue team to expect nothing less than $1,000.
When asked why he chose the team Hedley replies: “Well it was suggested to me by a certain family member, so I thought it was a good idea.”
Hedley said he knows of the good work the team does and spoke of one high-profile rescue of a missing child in the Georgetown Road area of Corner Brook.
“We watched all that here from the parking lot,” he said of the massive search for Cody Peddle in September 2010. Peddle was six at the time and was spotted about a kilometre southeast of a trailer park off Georgetown Road from a helicopter by members of the Bay of Islands Search and Rescue after spending a night in the woods.
But there’s more to the story of why the search and rescue team seemed like the best choice to benefit this time around.
“They were all evening and all night looking for him,” said Hedley as he glances over at his son Rick.
Rick Saunders spent a night lost in the woods behind Pinchgut Lake in October 2012.
“They knew where he was at, but they had to wait till the next morning, I’m told, to get him,” said Hedley.
“It started off ... it was rather stupid,” said Rick as he chimed in to tell his story.
Rick had left a friend’s cabin in the Rocky Pond area about 22 kilometres in behind Lady Slipper Road at about 11 a.m. to go for a short hike.
Not planning on going far, he left the survival kit at the cabin and took his shotgun, a knife and six shells with him.
About an eighth of a mile away he intended to turn around, but got waylaid.
“I went further west than I should have. I went towards Pinchgut rather than back out to the Stag Hill Road.”
When he realized he was lost, Rick said he followed a brook, which turned into a stream, which turned into a river.
“And I knew I was in a hard way come three o’clock in the afternoon.”
By 6 p.m. his friend, who had stayed at the cabin, drove out to the Corner Brook Fire Department and from there efforts began to locate him which included calling in the Bay of Islands Search and Rescue.
Rick had a cellphone with him and was able to keep in touch with his searchers.
“I don’t know why I had the cellphone,” he said, but added that it provided him with comfort.
At one point he told them of a noise he heard and one of the team was able to figure out the sound was the Jake brakes of tractor trailers going down the hill near Pinchgut.
It was then they realized Rick was no where near the cabin where several of the members had left from to search the woods, he was some 13 kilometres away.
Other members of the team then headed towards Pinchgut and set off a flare that Rick saw.
By then there was no chance of reaching him that night and Rick was asked by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer co-ordinating the search if he could make it through the night.
“I’ve got no choice,” was his reply.
He kept a small fire going and was one happy man when he was picked up by a helicopter the next morning.
“It’s pretty humbling to be left out there for a night on your own,” Rick said.
And he had high praise for his searchers, who travelled a long way to find him.
“They are fantastic. I can only praise them up because they know what they’re doing,” he said. “They know the area.”
The family didn’t tell Hedley that Rick was lost until after he was rescued.
“And then it wasn’t a surprise to me because it wasn’t the first time,” said Hedley, with a laugh.
As Rick feigns protest with “now, now, now,” Hedley tells of a time 44 years ago when his then 16-year-old son went missing on the Gaff Topsails.
They had been moose hunting on the Gaff Topsails and in the evening, just a bit before dark, Rick decided he was going for a walk around the pond with the gun.
“Well dark came and no sign of Rick,” said Hedley. So he walked up the track and back to look for his son.
“You can imagine how I felt though, but he eventually showed up.
“I don’t know what I could have done up on the Gaff Topsails,” he said. “No way of getting out of it till the train came the next day.”
Rick remembers seeing his father come up the tracks.
“He was a little bit concerned.”