DETROIT (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - For Earl and Matt Zellen, the outdoors was about spending time together with family.
The father and son from metro Detroit took off July 21 for a weeklong fishing trip to the northern Canadian wilderness, a couple of hundred miles from the Arctic Circle. It was the same spot they had been the year before with Matt's two younger brothers to celebrate Earl's 70th birthday.
This year's trip - with just the two of them - ended in tragedy.
The pair of experienced outdoorsmen went missing from Dubawnt Lake, Nunavut, on July 29 when they failed to show up at the designated time to catch their plane back home.
After a fruitless search led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, they are presumed dead.
All that Matt Zellen, 40, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the entrepreneur behind the Detroit Outfitters store in Warren, and Earl Zellen of Brighton, a longtime Ford executive turned housing volunteer, left behind was an empty boat washed up on the shore.
They also left a grieving family that includes Matt's 3-year-old twins, Addison and Walker, who are imbued with his love of the outdoors.
Authorities suspect the two men fell into the frigid water and died.
"The wilderness got them," said Paul Kotelewetz, owner of Ookpik Aviation in nearby Baker Lake, which did the air search for the RCMP.
According to Canadian news reports, the boat, which was found about 8 miles from their camp, was out of fuel and all the Zellens' survival gear was still inside, as were their life jackets.
Search pilots scanned the water's surface, looking for clues and finding nothing.
The Tukto Lodge, where the Zellens were staying, issued a statement Thursday, the day the search was called off, saying, "Pursuant to their request, the men were not accompanied by a guide or a third party at the time they went missing."
"Once they exhausted all of what they could do, the search was called off," Cpl. Yvonne Niego, RCMP spokeswoman, said about the extensive ground and two-day aerial search. "We maintain an open missing persons file."
The RCMP runs several search and rescue operations every year in Nunavut, which is 20% of Canada's land mass and has a population of only 33,000, according to Niego.
The men's family said it's common among veteran fishermen to use life preservers as cushions in the boat and to go out without a guide, especially in places previously visited. They also dismissed implications that outdoors conditions played a role.
"The day they went missing was 72 degree and sunny and weather was not factor," said Mike Zellen, son of Earl and brother of Matt.
Area weather reports indicate there was no ice on the lake, which is about 100 miles from Nunavut's border with Northwest Territories.
"My brother Matt felt very strongly that this was something to do with my dad each year my dad was still able," Mike Zellen said,
Mike Zellen said his brother also shared that love of the outdoors with his own children.
"He took great joys in going fishing with them, catching turtles and going on hikes."
That emphasis on family he'd learned from Earl.
"For my dad, everything stemmed from a love of family," Mike Zellen said. "His greatest passion were his grandchilden and sons."
In addition to his son and daughter, Matt Zellen is survived by his wife of seven years, Debbie. Earl Zellen is survived by his wife of 42 years, Linda and a third son, David.
"They had a wonderful relationship. Their lives were intertwined," Mike Zellen said of his dad and his brother.
The family has a private memorial planned for Friday with a mass scheduled for Saturday.
Detroit Free Press