Two Scammon Bay teenagers rescued from drifting ice

Boys stranded on decaying ice for half a day

Posted: Friday, December 20, 2002

ANCHORAGE - Two Scammon Bay teenagers riding a snowmachine were rescued in a blizzard Thursday afternoon on mushy pack ice west of Hooper Bay.

The Alaska National Guard rescued the boys about 12 hours after authorities were first alerted that the boys were on a snowmachine when the ice broke off and began drifting.

The boys were identified as Robert Tungwenuk, 18, and Francis Ulak, 16. A guard helicopter located the boys about three miles west of Hooper Bay on a rise of ice that was surrounded by overflow water.

The boys were riding a snowmachine from Scammon Bay to the nearby village of Chevak when they ran into trouble.

When his two-day-old snowmachine sank in the saltwater ice of Hooper Bay early Thursday, "It felt like a world of gloom"" said Ulak, 16. "You feel like you're just going to die right there. I was praying, crying, doing what I had to do to survive."

Chief Warrant Officer Dave Head, the pilot of the Blackhawk helicopter, said the rescue was done in blizzard conditions with less than a quarter-mile visibility.

Head said he was the first to spot the two. The boys were jumping up and down on a 5-foot-high mound of decaying ice that measured about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide. There was no sign of the snowmachine.

"We just got lucky and got on top of the ice," Tungwenuk said.

It was their home for the next 12 or 15 hours. The two built wind blocks out of ice and did push-ups to stay warm, they said.

The helicopter was equipped with a rescue basket but it was not used. Instead, Head positioned the Blackhawk about 6 feet above the ice and lowered one side so that two Air National Guard pararescuers could pull the teenagers into the helicopter.

Kristi Kendall, an Air National Guard senior airman, said the boys were rescued about 2:40 p.m.

"At first we heard the helicopter, but we had no sight of it. We lost hope," Tungwenuk said. Then suddenly it was coming their way. "We just started jumping on our iceberg, waving our hands all over," he said. "My world finally came back to peace."

The two were flown to the Hooper Bay health clinic at about 2:40 p.m. to be treated for mild hypothermia. The boys' uncle, Lester Wilde of Hooper Bay, told KYUK radio in Bethel that the teenagers were OK but wet.

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