Stranded Sitka man burns clothing for warmth

Adam Baratki rescued, treated for hypothermia at the local hospital

Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009

SITKA - An injured 27-year-old Sitka man survived a night of freezing temperatures and high winds in part by lighting an identification card on fire and stoking the blaze with some of his clothes.

Adam Baratki was recovering Friday from hypothermia and dehydration at Sitka Community Hospital.

After burning several layers of clothes, he still had enough to avoid freezing until he was found Friday morning by a Coast Guard helicopter on Biorka Island 15 miles southwest of Sitka.

"It was amazing he survived the night," said his father, John Baratki. "He's got his sense of humor back, so that's good. ... I know he's in good hands with the docs and nurses."

John Baratki is a former rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard. He's currently a substance abuse counselor, teen counselor, substitute teacher and dorm supervisor at Mount Edgecumbe High School.

His son, he said, had been in Sitka for only a few months. Adam Baratki had been recently hired at Raven's Way, a substance abuse treatment program for youths.

"He was interested in getting into counseling," John Baratki said. "He was just getting trained, it was kind of an on-the-job training."

Raven's Way has a camp on Biorka Island for its outdoors program. Adam Baratki decided to go on a short hike Thursday. His girlfriend tried to reach him Thursday night on his cell phone but could not get through.

"She last talked to him at 1:30 (p.m.) and couldn't get hold of him anymore," John Baratki said. "His supervisor noticed Adam was missing, and called search and rescue and the Coast Guard."

Sitka police received a call at 8:44 p.m. and referred the case to Sitka Mountain Rescue and the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard dropped off two groups of Sitka Mountain Rescue volunteers on the island and they searched throughout the night.

Shortly after first light, a Coast Guard helicopter crew spotted Baratki waving on the beach, not far from the Ravens Way camp.

John Baratki said that when he got the first call that his son had been found, he didn't know whether the younger man was going to be OK. He received another call soon afterward from Adam's girlfriend, who reported that Adam was heading to the hospital for treatment for dehydration and hypothermia.

"His girlfriend said he was lucid but shivering uncontrollably," he said. "They got him in as quickly as possible."

John Baratki said his son told him he had intended to take only a short hike away from camp and had not carried survival gear, other than a lighter. However, he wore four layers of clothes.

Not far from the camp, he slipped between two rocks and hurt his ankle so badly he could not walk. His cell phone would not work.

He dragged himself to a sheltered area and started a fire by lighting his ID card. He kept it going with some of his clothing. He kept his Carhartt jacket, but burned his shirts during the night, his father said.

John Baratki said that for him and his wife, it was the longest night of their lives. Afterward, "I counted my blessings that he's safe," Baratki said.

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