By Mike Bissonette for Seward City News –
When Jennifer Neyman and Christopher Hanna were flown out to Harding Icefield area of Kenai Fjords National Park on Friday looking for adventure, they found more of it than anticipated ending with their successful rescue from Bear Glacier on Tuesday.
The two were flown onto the icefield for the day on Friday with the intention of being picked up by the same aircraft later. The weather quickly deteriorated into blowing snow and winds up to 30 knots. The poor conditions prevented the plane from returning, prompting them to call for a rescue. Using an InReach satellite communication system they were able to send their status and location.
According to an online trooper dispatch, Alaska State Troopers received the report that the two were stranded on Bear Glacier around 4:20 p.m. Saturday. State Troopers in Seward got in touch with the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.
The Alaska Rescue Coordination center is a small high-tech facility located on Elmendorf Air Force Base. Staffed primarily by full-time guard members this Rescue Coordination Center is responsible for aeronautical search and rescue cases across Alaska.
This dramatic rescue could have ended in tragedy but Neyman and Hanna employed proper equipment and know-how demonstrating the importance of preparedness anytime one sets out to enjoy Alaska’s wilderness. Preparedness can mitigate risk but not eliminate it entirely. When their tent failed they reportedly dug and sheltered in a snow cave. Having planned to only be out for the day they ran out of supplies as time wore on. They kept the Rescue Coordination Center apprised of their status and location using their InReach.
On Monday morning The Alaska Air National Guard deployed two aircraft, including a helicopter to the area, though bad weather kept them from reaching the stranded pair.
An Alaska Air National Guard aircraft dropped supplies including sleeping bags, food, fuel and a radio to them in a lighted package, though it did not land as close as hoped and they were told not to take risks getting to the supplies. The risk of getting separated from their shelter in the extreme weather was deemed not worth the risk.
On Tuesday an Alaska Air National Guard HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter landed on the glacier. Air National Guardsman from the 210th Rescue Squadron made their way to the snow cave where Neyman and Hanna were stranded on Bear Glacier. Their InReach coordinates indicated they were at the 4,300-foot level of the 13-mile-long glacier. The Air National Guard reported having to dig through four feet of snow to rescue the two.
The two were transported by helicopter to the Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna. Hanna declined medical treatment, Neyman was treated and medically cleared in the afternoon. Likely headed home for a hot meal and some well-earned rest.
Having a successful rescue this early in the season sets a high bar for safety in the coming year. Having the means to communicate, shelter, and sustain one’s self until help arrives can be the difference between life and death, as it was in this case. No matter what our plans are the Alaska wilderness can change them without notice.