On Thursday, Alaska State Troopers rescued 30-year-old Tyson Steele in remote Alaska. He had survived below-freezing winter conditions for 23 days after his cabin burned down in Mid-December.
A Facebook post of the video of the rescue said the troopers responded to a request for a “welfare check” on Steele after he had not been heard from for several weeks. Steele had been living in a remote home, roughly 20 miles outside of Skwentna, Alaska, since September, according to a report issued by the Alaska State Troopers about the rescue.
Flying in a Helo 3 helicopter, pilots Cliff Gilliland and Tactical Flight Officer Zac Johnson found Steele waving his arms to get their attention next to a shelter he appeared to have built. Steele has stamped out “SOS” in the snow. A statement from the Troopers said Steele “appeared healthy” after being rescued.
In an interview with the Alaska State Troopers’ Public Information Office, published Jan. 10, Steele said his house caught fire on either Dec. 17 or Dec. 18 at around 1 or 2 a.m. He theorized it began with his wood stove.
“It’s 1 or 2 in the morning and I’d been awakened to a cold cabin, right? So, it takes me a while to go back to sleep. And, drip, drip, drip – there’s fiery drips of plastic coming through the roof above me. So, I go outside to pick up some … snow and I just see that the whole roof’s on fire,” he said in the statement.
He threw on boots with no socks, long underwear and a heavy wool sweater and ran out the door to see his roof was on fire. He grabbed as much of his belongs as he could, but the whole place burned down.
“And the worst part of all of this – I can survive 23 days again – but my dog was in there, asleep by my side. Day after day for the last six years he, he’s 6 years old. … Was,” he said in the interview, getting emotional. His dog was a chocolate lab named Phil, who didn’t survive the fire.
Steele said he was overcome with grief for his dog and realized everything he owned has been in the cabin. But he said didn’t give into hopelessness. In the statement, he said he found some cans that hadn’t burned and rationed food. For the first two nights he said he slept in a snow cave and then started working on a shelter. He had lost all ability to communicate with the outside world, but figured his family would worry when he he didn’t call.
“Because my parents, my neighbors they’ll say ‘I haven’t heard from him,’ and they’ll call [the air service] and he’ll come check it out, OK?” he told the Alaska State Troopers’ Ken Marsh. Steele said he used ashes to stamp “SOS” into the snow, and had to repeatedly make the message because it kept snowing. “So, one of my goals was to just pave a trail top the lake. Check the ice depth to make sure it could land. And that took days, just to get to the lake a quarter mile.”
Steele was also fighting against the short days of December, and new he only had six hour of daylight to move. He had a headlamp for the first 10 to 11 days but the batteries eventually burned out.
“I didn’t have a map and I knew I didn’t have enough knowledge of the whereabouts. I could have said ‘oh, [let’s go] that direction.’ But I have no idea what waterways stay frozen enough for me to walk through – I could fall through the ice,” he said.
Now he’s been rescued, Steele says he plans to return home to Salt Lake City, Utah.