A man from southeastern Manitoba says if he hadn't stumbled upon a helpless family last month, they could have lost their toes in the cold weather.

Phil is a trapper who was riding his snowmobile near Whitemouth Lake on December 28th, when he came across a car that had broken through the ice at Mosquito Creek. Phil says his initial reaction was anger, as he questioned why someone would destroy a snowmobile trail by driving their car down it. But, when he reached the car, he spotted an adult man and two children huddled beneath a blanket. The man told Phil they got lost on their way to Toronto.

(The SOS call came from the circled shelter along Trail 29.)Phil then learned there were two other family members that had already started walking for help. But, in the direction they were going, the nearest road was at least 40 kilometres away. Leaving the three inside the car, Phil then hopped on his snowmobile in search of the missing family members. He found them about three kilometres down the trail.

"They were so cold, that they were just sitting beside the road," recalls Phil.

He says the air temperature was about -12 degrees and the two had been out all night. They were walking in runners and not wearing jackets, mittens or toques. They had stopped walking because their feet were frozen.

Phil gave them his winter clothing and then loaded them onto his snowmobile and rode back to the Tin Pan Shelter, used by South East Sno-Riders. He then built a fire for the entire family and sent out an SOS on his SPOT GPS tracking device. The SOS was sent not only to RCMP but also to Phil's family, who immediately feared the worst.

"(My family) sent people out after me," he recalls.

Phil says eventually a group of riders showed up at the shelter, prepared to do some volunteer work there, unaware of the rescue going on. The three riders offered their packed lunches to the family, who was originally from Sudan and did not speak good English.

"These people haven't eaten or drank anything for twenty-four hours, so they are starving," says Phil.

Phil was also then able to send a message to his wife, assuring her that he was okay and that a helicopter rescue would not be needed.

With the help of RCMP and the three snowmobile club members, Phil says they were able to bring the family to safety.

According to Mitch Gobeil, President of South East Sno-Riders, the family was in a car similar to a Toyota Corolla. Driving from western Canada to eastern Canada, they were following their GPS, which told them to go through the Sprague border crossing and into the United States. When they got to the border, they turned around in order to stay in Canada. But, Gobeil says in that area of the province, cell service is practically non-existent. Gobeil says they should have stayed on Provincial Road 308 and driven up to the Trans Canada Highway, but without GPS they probably took what appeared to be a road and ended up getting stuck on a snowmobile trail.

Phil says because that trail had just been groomed earlier in the week, it probably looked like a road to this family.

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