November 22, 2011 - According to news sources, a 22-year-old Healy man was rescued by Alaska State Troopers after trying to walk almost 50 miles out of the wilderness in temperatures of 20 to 30 degrees below zero.
Troopers found the man suffering from frostbite and hypothermia, late Saturday night at an unheated cabin on Healy Creek, about 10 miles east of Healy, a few hours after he hit the SOS button on his SPOT device.
“That Spot Tracker saved his life, there’s not a doubt in my mind,” said Eric Jeffords, one of the two Alaska State Troopers who found him. “I don’t think he would have made it until morning.”
The man had only a lightweight sleeping bag to keep him warm, and his feet were frozen. He wore a pair of light leather boots.
“There was a wood stove there, but he had already used up the wood on his way out and never replaced it for the guy who owned the cabin,” Jeffords said. “When he came back, there was no wood and he was too lamed up to get more wood. Realistically, he probably wouldn’t have made it through the night.”
According to a trooper report, the man pressed the help button on his Spot Personal Tracker, a GPS satellite device that can send messages to friends, family or emergency services, at 5:36 p.m. Saturday. The beacon indicated Costales was in the Healy Creek drainage but that it wasn’t a life-threatening situation, just that he needed help.
“I started hitting the assist button to get somebody out there that was non-emergency, but nobody showed up.”
Three hours later, at 8:40 p.m., the man hit the SOS button, which sent an emergency message to troopers with his GPS coordinates. Because of the SOS beacon and the 30-below temperature, troopers immediately initiated a search by snowmachine.
The man was medevaced to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, where he was listed in satisfactory condition Monday. Doctors don’t know yet whether he will lose any toes.
Jeffords and fellow Cantwell trooper Jim Ellison found Costales at the cabin. They loaded him on a trailer behind the snowmachine and transported him back to the road. They arrived around midnight and Costales was whisked away by medics from the Tri-Valley Volunteer Fire Department and then medevaced to Fairbanks.