“It is with great happiness we can announce the missing hunters, Paul Celesta and Will Smith have been found. They are both safe and on their way to Barriere,” said Pam Jim of Little Fort. “Thank you to all who volunteered in the efforts. We are forever grateful.”
When Simpcw band elder Paul Celesta and Will Smith failed to return home from a hunting trip, a missing persons alert was issued by Simpcw First Nation in the early morning of Sunday, Nov. 22.
“They went out hunting Saturday morning but failed to return on time,” tells search volunteer Wanda Nystoruk, “The family then notified others who started a search right away in the areas the men said they were going. The family also contacted RCMP, and Barriere Search and Rescue (BSAR) then became involved as well as Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR). The search managers opted not to publicly announce the search until daylight so as to not risk others going out looking in the dark, snowy and slippery conditions.”
They searched late into the night Saturday with no luck. Sunday morning the ongoing search was publicly announced on the Simpcw Facebook page and then shared all over.
Nystoruk tells that volunteers started arriving at the BSAR hall in downtown Barriere first thing in the morning to help with the search. Wells Grey SAR, Shuswap SAR, and a few other SAR groups also arrived.
“They had set up a base of operations at the fire hall. We were given an update, advice, and rules to follow before being assigned areas to search. They was also an airplane available and a helicopter out searching. I think there were about 60 Simpcw and Barriere residents who turned out to volunteer to search along with the SAR teams.”
The news that everyone had been waiting for came in just before 10 a.m., a local Simpcw member and a Kamloops SAR member who were searching on snowmobiles up the Jamieson Forest Service Road had found the missing hunters safe and sound.
Nystoruk says the hunters were in good shape, “Their vehicle broke down, so they had made a fire and waited for help as it was a long walk back. When we got word they were found safe we were so happy and relieved. Then we were all asked to return to BSAR headquarters to check in – I was amazed at the number of people that had come out to help. We were so impressed and moved at all the support to help a Simpcw elder and his companion. We truly live in a wonderful community.”
Paul Celesta’s daughter Amanda was elated with the news her father and partner had been found safe and sound. After a very happy reunion, she posted the following statement.
“I am continually blown away and humbled by the amazing people that surround myself and my family. I will forever be grateful for this community I have grown up in.
“We have been surrounded and showered with love and support. There are so many people to be thankful for. From those who started the search last night and took care of everything so me and my family could just be together. It was definitely hard for me to just keep put, but it was important to stay with my mom. So thankful for all the Search and Rescue teams that came in, and all the other volunteers from everywhere. I don’t know how we got so lucky, so blessed. I’m thankful and appreciate everything more than I could ever say.
“Thankful for those who just checked in even to make sure we knew there was someone to talk to if needed. People who offered to feed volunteers, people who put themselves on standby if we needed anything.
“It was a nightmare of an evening, and I questioned how this was actually something that was going on, but because of our community (which expands past the reserve and Barriere), we at least knew we weren’t in it alone.
“On behalf of myself and my family, I thank everyone who stepped up in anyway possible. It made all the difference.”
A social media post from Simpcw First Nation says, “On behalf of Simpcw First Nation and the family of elder Paul Celesta and Will Smith, we are very grateful for the communities of Chu Chua, Barriere and the surrounding area for assisting with the missing hunters. I am blown away by the generosity of the communities. As I sit here observing volunteers showing up with their snowmobiles and quads, ready to participate in the search efforts, I am amazed at the joint effort to find our loved ones. I am proud to be a part of two amazing communities that can come together in a time of crisis. Thank you from our community – we are forever grateful. And, a big shout out to the RCMP, Barriere Search and Rescue and Shuswap Search and Rescue – Kukwstép-kucw (on behalf of all of us, we thank you all).