Racers are lined up and ready to go for the Rankin Inlet to Whale Cove race in Rankin Inlet on April 7, 2024. Photo courtesy Rankin to Whale race committee.Darrell Greer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The 2024 edition of the Rankin Inlet to Whale Cove race had an extra attraction on April 7, with Inuk pilot Kelly Owlijoot of Arviat being charted by the race committee to follow the racers by helicopter.

The pilot was joined in the chopper by a medic and an Inuk videographer, Noel Kaludjak.

Owlijoot said race committee member Neco Towtongie reached out to him about adding the chopper to the mix.

He said the committee chartered the helicopter and he couldn’t wait to cover the race.

“I was in Arviat when Neco messaged me, so I had to get to Gimli, Man., and fly the chopper, a Bell 206B Jet Ranger, to Rankin,” said Owlijoot.

“It was my first time doing it and it was a lot of fun. The race started at 1:30 p.m. and we flew up to the dock where they were starting at 12:45 p.m. We had a good signal, so we were keeping in contact with the ground crew by cell phone.   

“They wanted me up there for safety reasons, as well as having the race filmed. Noel was also using his cell phone to keep in touch with Facebook live.

“Noel was in the front passenger seat with me and the medic was in the back.”  

Owlijoot said it was really exciting and “pretty cool” to watch the race from the chopper.

He said the trio saw a few snowmobiles passing others, pretty close up, and they could tell which machines were bigger.  

“There were some 600ccs in the race but the bigger snowmobiles had the advantage. It was cool to be close enough to easily tell which racers had the bigger machines.

“The 800 and the 900 turbos go a lot faster than the racers who were using the 600ccs.

“They had a pretty smooth track, too, and that would also give more of an advantage to the bigger machines. They could really go a lot faster on the straightaways.

“We were about 80-to-100 feet above the racers, so we had a pretty great view of it all. We could see the racers looking up at us from time to time, but they were concentrating on the track a lot more than us.”  

Owlijoot said he’d love to do it again in 2025 if the committee asks him to.

He said the members are talking about bringing him up again next year, so he’ll just have to wait and see what happens.  

“No one ever wants to see a crash during the race, but, if one were to happen while I was covering the track, my actions would depend on the severity of the crash.

“We weren’t able to bring a stretcher on board the helicopter, so, if it was a serious crash that called for a stretcher, the injured racer would have to be transported by qamutiik.

“We actually had a pretty good signal with Whale Cove now having cell coverage for the past few years now, I think. We had to go a little bit higher sometimes, but, most of the way, we had very good coverage.”

Owlijoot said the most exciting part of it all for him was watching the race in real time from their vantage point.  

He said flying right beside them while they were going 100 mph or more was pretty exciting.  

“We could tell they had a lot of adrenaline pumping through their veins and that was pretty neat to watch. The crowd at the start and finish lines seemed to be pretty stoked to see the helicopter, as well.

“There was a pretty big crowd out for the race. When we were hovering above them, we could see most of them waving at us. They seemed pretty thrilled to see us being part of it all.

“We could tell who was winning because they took off two by two. Numbers one and two left first and then, 30 seconds later, three and four, then five and six and so on every 30 seconds. We could tell number 26 (Nanaouq Tanuyak) was passing a bunch of snowmobiles to finish the race first.

“It was pretty cool to be hovering right around the crowd. I tried not to get too close to them, because I know the helicopter is really loud. I never thought I’d ever be doing that but, now that I’ve done it once, I hope to do it again and again.”

By Darrell Greer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 12, 2024 at 13:49

This item reprinted with permission from   Kivalliq News   Rankin Inlet, Nunavut
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