Snowmobiler survives 3 nights on Alaska tundra

The Associated Press
Posted Oct. 20, 2011, at 3:26 p.m.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A snowmobiler went missing in an Alaska blizzard and spent three frigid nights on the Arctic tundra before a pilot detected his faint radio signal and rescued him, rescue officials said.

The man left Barrow on a snowmachine on Saturday night and headed for the village of Atqasak, about 50 miles away but never arrived because he drove the machine into a ravine.

The Anchorage Daily News reported Thursday that a ground search was begun Sunday but blowing snow made it impossible to follow the man’s snowmachine tracks. The snow also grounded rescue helicopters, said Bob Mercer, acting director and lead pilot with the Barrow-based North Slope Borough Rescue Service.

To make matters worse, the temperature was below freezing, getting down to about 25 degrees, Mercer said.

The weather cleared some on Monday but searchers couldn’t find the man.

Era Aviation pilot Eric Greener said he landed his Cessna 208 Caravan in Atqasak after a morning flight from Barrow on Tuesday, and someone in the village told him they’d received a faint radio signal from the missing man. Greener was able to hear the man’s weak radio signal once he was back in the air.

“He had a pretty broken radio, but I was able to communicate with him,” Greener said. “He started calling at one point, pretty excited, saying, ‘I can hear you, you’re right over the top of me.”’

He was about 14 miles northwest of Atqasak, Greener said.

Greener circled around once and told the man on the ground to “give him a shout” when the plane’s landing lights were pointed directly at him.

“And he did, and I dropped down a little lower, and I saw this little black dot in front of me, and, lo and behold, there’s our missing snowmachiner,” Greener said. “I flew 500 feet over the top of him. And he had stood up, was waving his arms and talking to me on the radio. He was pretty excited, pretty happy, been out there for three days.”

Greener called the rescue service and provided a precise location for the man, Mercer said. A helicopter took the man to the hospital in Barrow, and he was later flown to Alaska Native Medical Center.

Mercer said he couldn’t release the man’s name or the extent of his injuries.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/20/news/nation/snowmobiler-survives-3-nights-on-alaska-tundra/ printed on September 18, 2014