By Richard Bell
A massive search-and-rescue hunt along the Eastern Shore for two missing elderly women from East Petpeswick Road came to a successful conclusion on Wednesday morning, due in large part to an unactivated OnStar navigation system.
The drama began on Tuesday evening, when a relative of Elizabeth Kanigsberg in Musquodoboit Harbour reported her missing. Search and rescue teams began work during the night. By morning, S&R teams from Halifax, Musquodoboit Harbour, Middle Musquodoboit, and Sheet Harbour were all in the field. Their headquarters was on the site of the Happy Dudes Surf Emporium on East Petpeswick across the street from Kanigsberg’s house. Overhead, a helicopter flew lazily back and forth over the heavily wooded area around the home.
The morning soon became more puzzling when Gary Young reported that Anne Thomas, with whom he shares a home, was also missing. She had not been home when he returned from work on Tuesday evening, but she had failed to return during the night. Thomas and Kanigsberg were friends, so the RCMP was soon considering whether Thomas might have picked up Kanigsberg and driven elsewhere, which meant that the focus on searching the East Petpeswick Road area might be useless.
Luckily for the two missing women, Young remembered that when Thomas bought her new GM car, the car came equipped with GM’s subscription OnStar navigation system. He also knew that Thomas had not activated this paid service, but he suggested to the RCMP that perhaps GM could turn the system on remotely.
As it turned out, GM located the car quickly after a request from the RCMP, and by 11 AM, a helicopter was landing in the clear-cut forest where they were stuck in a mud hole.
In an interview shortly after returning to her home late Wednesday afternoon, Thomas explained the circumstances that had led her and Kanigsberg to end up stuck in a mud hole Wednesday morning after spending the evening lost on a series of rocky dirt roads somewhere east of Middle Musquodoboit.
“I just went up to see Elizabeth around 4 pm, and I said, ‘Hey, you wanna go see the leaves up on the Meaghers Grant Road?” Thomas said. “She said OK, so off we went. She didn’t bring her bag, I didn’t bring my cell phone. We didn’t have any water or snacks. We were just going to run up there and back.”
Their first departure from the straight and narrow happened when they stopped and picked up an elderly hitchhiker. “He was an older man,” Thomas said, “and he told us he lived by himself, didn’t have a car, and was on his way back from Dartmouth after walking several miles.”
They dropped off the hitchhiker in Murchyville, and he gave them instructions to go back to Middle Musquodoboit. “We stopped at this gas station, but it wasn’t in the retail area that I know in Middle,” Thomas said. “There were two women in the store, and they insisted that we take this nearby road. Well, we did take that road. And that’s where we made our big mistake.”
As darkness fell, they found themselves driving into a maze of unmarked dirt roads. “I kept taking one road after another, but there’s no signs, you don’t know where you’re going,” Thomas said. “I kept hoping we’d get onto a paved road, but we never did. We finally came to some kind of a barricade, with padlocks, and that’s where we stopped, put the seats back, and slept a bit. I did think of everyone who would be worrying. But we didn’t have any phones, and no money. At least I had a full gas tank! Plus it wasn’t cold. Where we were was fine.”
In the morning, they set out again, only to finally end up in a mud hole that they couldn’t escape. “I couldn’t go forward, and I couldn’t go back,” Thomas said. “Elizabeth was incredible. There was this bar on the front of the car, and she got out and got some poles, and started trying to dig us out. But it didn’t work.”
The helicopter landed nearby around 11 AM. “Elizabeth says, ‘We’ve been saved! I thought that was funny! I was all excited because I thought we were going to get to ride out of there on the helicopter. But we ended up having to wait another couple of hours while they brought out some trucks from Sheet Harbour.” The helicopter crew stayed with them until the trucks arrived, and also provided some much-appreciated water and energy bars.
Thomas said she was looking forward to getting a better night’s sleep. And she emphasized how much they appreciated all the time and effort that the search-and-rescue teams had put in trying to find them.