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ANCHORAGE - A family of four was rescued by a National Park Service helicopter Monday after being snowed in on the Nabesna Glacier over the weekend.
The family, tourists from Cincinnati, were camping at 6,200 feet when an unexpected summer snowfall prevented their prearranged pickup.
Clyde and Camille Gilbert and their two children were dropped off on the glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park last Tuesday for five days of hiking and camping. Nabesna Glacier is about 230 miles east of Anchorage.
It started raining Thursday, and the rain turned to snow that continued through the weekend, said Clyde Gilbert. They immediately started to ration food in case they were stuck on the glacier for an extra week, he said.
Their pilot, Kirk Ellis of K Air in Nabesna, flew to the pickup site Sunday morning, but was unable to land due to fog and snow. Returning later in the day, he found the landing site covered in slushy snow. Ellis dropped the Gilberts a note wrapped in plastic bags giving them the choice to wait out the weather or hike out to an alternate pickup site.
The family, including their children, Joshua, 16, and Ashley, 11, signaled with their arms their desire to hike out and started off Monday. Meanwhile, Ellis tracked their progress from the air. But a creek swollen with snowmelt prevented them from reaching their rendezvous. At that point, Ellis called for assistance.
Help came in the form of a helicopter from the National Park Service. Chitina District ranger and pilot Tom Betts said the family was calm and did well. Completing the rescue required two trips.
"There was no question they knew what they were doing," said Betts.
Gilbert said he and his family have done several similar trips and felt comfortable with the situation.
"We never felt like we were actually stranded," Gilbert said via marine radio from Prince William Sound, where the family was fishing.
Gilbert expressed gratitude toward all their rescuers. "We always felt he (Ellis) had our best interest at heart ... his actions gave us peace of mind," he said.
The family returned to Nabesna Monday and drove straight to Valdez for their fishing trip. They planned to start a kayak trip Wednesday.