He was sleep deprived and nearly out of ammo, alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Well, not really alone.
For several nights in a row, the man had fought off the stubborn advances of a grizzly bear that had attacked him days earlier at a mining camp about 40 miles from Nome.
There was no way to phone for help. But then the help found him.
En route to a mission on Friday, the crew of a Coast Guard helicopter saw the man wave both hands in the air, a widely recognized distress signal, the helicopter pilot said. On the tin roof of a cabin, SOS and “help me” had been scribbled. The cabin door had been torn off.
The crew took the man to Nome for treatment for chest bruises and a non-life threatening leg injury, according to the coast guard. So ended a week-long ordeal that could pass as a sequel to “The Revenant,” in which Leonardo DiCaprio was maimed by a computer-generated grizzly bear.
“At one point a bear had dragged him down to the river,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jared Carbajal, one of the Coast Guard helicopter pilots, said in an interview on Wednesday. ” He had a gun. He said the bear came back every night and hadn’t slept for a few days.
The Coast Guard has not identified the man, who rescuers said was in his 50s or early 60s and had been in the cabin since July 12 on the small mining claim. It was not known how the man reached the remote camp, which has no cell phone service and is in a drainage area of the river.
Commander Carbajal said the Coast Guard’s MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter changed course about a mile to avoid some clouds when something caught the attention of its co-pilot.
“He said, ‘Hey, there’s a guy over there and he’s waving to us,’” Commander Carbajal said. “I said, ‘Is he doing it with one hand or with both hands? “”
The answer: two hands.
“I said right, it’s usually a sign of distress,” the pilot recalls, telling the other three crew members of the helicopter.
Lt. jg AJ Hammac, the 35-year-old co-pilot, said in an interview on Wednesday that he saw the man stumble out of his cabin. It was a curious sight for him. Lt. Hammac is based on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and spends two weeks in Alaska for the Coast Guard.
“We don’t really meet people in the middle of nowhere,” Lt. Hammac said. “He was sort of in trouble. When we arrived he was on all fours waving a white flag.
Lieutenant Hammac said the man’s leg was taped.
“He really looked like he had been there for a while,” he said.
Rick Green, spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said in an email Wednesday that grizzly bears were widespread in the area from which the man was rescued, especially around this time. of the year. The department had no further information about the attack or said whether it was investigating the encounter.
According to a 2019 report from Alaska health officials, 68 people in the state were hospitalized with injuries sustained in 66 bear attacks from 2000 to 2017. Ten people died from bear attacks during this period.
Petty Officer First Class Ali Blackburn, spokesperson for the Alaska Coast Guard, said in an interview Wednesday that it was unusual for a person to have multiple encounters with the same bear. She said the man’s situation has become more and more serious.
“She only had two cartridges left,” she said of her ammunition. “I imagine you would be a little crazy after not having slept so long.”
The meeting reiterated the importance of carrying an emergency beacon or satellite phone or text messaging device, according to the Coast Guard.
Commander Carbajal, 37, a Coast Guard pilot since 2009, said he had never been reported before by anyone needing rescue. It took rescuers around 15 minutes to transport the man to Nome, where, he said, the man insisted on getting to a waiting ambulance.
“You could tell he was starting to get the adrenaline going, I think, and started realizing what happened,” he said. “He didn’t want to get on the stretcher.
The Coast Guard helicopter had flown from Kotzebue to Nome, where the crew had been posted the next day to pilot a team of scientists to search the coastline for dead whales, walruses and seals.
“If we had been in the nearby river valley,” Commander Carbajal said, “we would have missed him totally.”