Bethel Search And Rescue Provides Tips On How To Survive A Winter Storm

Feb 11, 2020

Bethel Search and Rescue members Sam Samuelson and Peter Atchak provided advice on how to survive a winter storm.
Credit Petra Harpak / KYUK

The recently rescued boys from Nunam Iqua showed that it’s possible to withstand Alaskan winter conditions with a strong will to live and some survival skills. The Scammon Bay searchers who found them said that the boys had dug a hole in order to keep their 2-year-old brother warm. Experienced Bethel Search and Rescue members, Peter Atchak and Sam Samuelson, talked about what else the boys did well, and everything you should do if you’re caught in a winter storm.

“The key to making it out there, if you happen to be caught in a storm, is to be prepared,” said former BSAR President Peter Atchak.

Always check the weather before heading out, and let people know where you’re going and when you plan to be there, added Samuelson.

“And if you don’t show up within two or three hours, then something’s wrong,” Samuelson said.

Atchak ran through a list of things you should always bring on your snowmachine: a knife and a lighter, so you can rip off your snowmachine seat and burn it to get detected. “And that’ll give out the blackest smoke you ever see,” Atchak said.

Atchak continued: a tarp, and rain gear. “That snow can turn into wet snow in a hurry,” Atchak said.

But the most important tool you can bring, Atchak says, is a shovel. 

“A snow cave is the best thing you can do,” Atchak said. “If there’s enough snow out there, you can build yourself a little shelter.”

But sometimes a storm comes out of nowhere, even during a short ride to the town’s dump. Atchak says that in cases like those, the first thing to do is to stop.

“Stop. You don’t keep going. If you happen to get disoriented, or if the weather comes in, if you don’t know where you are, you stop,” Atchak said.

Samuelson says to always stay by your snowmachine. 

“Flip your snowmachine up on its side, it’s a super wind block,” Samuelson said. “And stay as close as you can to the machine, cause that’s what you can spot first.”

And then, Atchak says, you have to stay warm. He says that you can insulate your clothes with grass from the tundra. And when you dig your snow cave, don’t point the opening towards where the wind is coming from. Before you go inside the cave, collect some leaves to sit on and bring a stick in case the opening gets covered up.

“You can poke through to the ceiling so you can breath and don’t suffocate,” Atchak said.

The Nunam Iqua boys didn’t have a shovel, but they dug with their hands so that their 2-year-old brother could get cover. Atchak is proud of their thinking.

“That was an excellent, that was a smart move,” Atchak said.

Atchak says that another good decision the boys made was to stay on the highest snow drift. 

“So you can be visible from all around. But if you can’t because, say it’s for instance too windy, you put something on the highest point,” Atchak said.

And have faith in the training and skill of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta searchers because Samuelson says that they’re amazing.