A previous version of this story described Jason Keith as a Morinville resident based on information from the Yukon RCMP and coroner's service. Keith's family members have since clarified that he lived in Alexander. The story has been updated accordingly.
The RCMP have recovered the body of an Alexander snowmobiler known to his family as a passionate hunter and outdoorsman.
The Yukon Coroner’s Service reported last week that search and rescue officials recovered the body of Alexander First Nation resident Jason Donald Keith from Drury Lake on Feb. 3.
Drury Lake is 170 km north of Whitehorse and 60 km west of Faro in the Yukon.
The Yukon RCMP report that Keith, 36, had been travelling by snowmobile with two other men near the narrows on Drury Lake after dark on Jan. 28. While police initially believed that Keith and another man broke through the ice and fell into the lake, they have since determined that the two of them rode into open water. The man escaped the water, but Keith was seen going under and did not come back up.
The two other men travelled to a home in Drury Creek and called police just after midnight on Jan. 29. Search and rescue officials commenced their search for Keith later that morning, joined by a B.C. RCMP underwater recovery team on Feb. 2. Officials recovered Keith’s body and the two snowmobiles the next day.
Keith’s Facebook page lists him as a graduate of Morinville Community High and describes him as “an old soul in a modern era that was born a century too late.”
While the coroner’s service reported that Keith was from Morinville, Joe Kootenay, Keith’s cousin and a member of Alexander band council, has clarified that he actually lived in Alexander with his grandmother, Lena Keith.
Kootenay said he and Keith were like brothers, and grew up surrounded by copies of Field & Stream and Alberta Outdoorsman while hearing tales about the hunting exploits of Keith’s great-grandfather, Leo Kootenay.
“(Keith) was very well read. The guy probably polished off a novel a week since he was nine.”
Keith became a skilled guide and hunter, and would often venture into the wilderness for months at time, Kootenay said. When Kootenay got married, Keith chartered a plane to fly down from the Yukon in time for the ceremony only to fly back out to the bush the next morning.
“He just loved to hunt, loved the outdoors,” Kootenay said.
Kootenay said Keith worked as a guide throughout Western Canada for about 10 years, having put much of his life on hold to care for his grandmother.
Keith was working for the Dean Sandulak’s Trophy Stone Outfitting at the time of the accident.
Sandulak said that Keith started with his Whitehorse-based company about a year ago and got along well with his co-workers. His son, Bill, and another employee would have been with Keith ferrying supplies to a camp on the night of the accident, following a route his crews had used for some 12 years to cross Drury Lake.
Sandulak said he’d been outfitting for 32 years and never had anything more serious than scrapes or bruises happen to him or his crew.
“It’s a huge, huge hit to all of us, but especially to my son and the other fellow who was with him at the time. They’re going to be carrying Jason along with them for the rest of their lives. He was definitely a good friend.”
Keith is survived by his grandmother Lena, sister Dakota, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Kootenay said the family was still making funeral arrangements.
Many people nowadays die from disease, accidents, or overdoses, Kootenay said.
“My brother, he got to go doing something we both love doing.”
The coroner’s service, Faro RCMP, and the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board are continuing to investigate this death. The coroner’s service urged residents to use extreme caution on Yukon waterways and not to travel at night.