Alaska man survives 3 freezing weeks after cabin fire
As a helicopter circles overhead, a large “SOS” stamped into the snow comes into view. Next to it is a lone figure, walking among piles of snow, waving his arms.
Tyson Steele had not had proper shelter in weeks. In fact, it had been more than 20 days since an inferno ignited in his remote Alaskan cabin, driving him into the subzero temperatures and snow, killing his dog and leaving Steele to fend for himself.
A 30-year-old homesteader originally from Utah, Steele was rescued by a helicopter team Thursday, the Alaska State Troopers said in a report. The authorities posted video of the rescue on Facebook.
After his family and friends had not heard from Steele in weeks, they asked for a welfare check.
“The request is what alerted us to go look for him,” said Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers. “The SOS might eventually have drawn a passing pilot to investigate, but hard to say when — it had already been more than three weeks.”
Steele, who had been living alone in Alaska since September, said he had purchased the property about 20 miles from Skwentna from a Vietnam War veteran. Skwentna is about 70 miles northwest of Anchorage.
A “hasty mistake” was what began Steele’s survival story: He put a big piece of cardboard in his wood stove to start a fire, which ended up sending a spark to the roof and igniting the cabin.
Steele said he grabbed everything that was on his bed, some coats, some sleeping bags, and rushed outside. He called for his dog, Phil, but the dog was consumed by the blaze.
He worked until morning trying to put out the fire. When daylight finally came, he made an inventory of what he could salvage from the remains.
He said he calculated “two cans a day for 30 days on rations,” noting that some of the cans had popped open in the fire and jars of peanut butter had melted plastic, “so, it tastes like my home, just burning.”
He slept in a snow cave for two nights before creating a tent-like shelter out of tarps and scrap lumber around his wooden stove. He said it was not exactly warm, but “just took the edge off.”
After stamping out an SOS in the snow, Steele added ashes to make it black — onething he said he kept doing often “because it would snow and I would have to redo it.”
Marsh, the Alaska State Troopers spokesman, called Steele’s survival “stunning.”
“He really had to think fast in a few seconds,” he said.
Aimee Ortiz is a New York Times writer.