Thanks to makeshift driftwood sign, Coast Guard rescues stranded ATV drivers

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, locates two missing men after detecting their heat signatures inside a cabin near Saltery Cove on Kodiak Island. As the helicopter approached the cabin, the crew could see smoke rising from the chimney and the word “HELP” spilled out with driftwood in the cabin’s driveway. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Air Station Kodiak.)

Two men who needed help after being stranded near Saltery Cove this past weekend did just what they needed to do to be rescued—including using driftwood to spelling out the word ‘HELP.”

The search for the missing men started when family members notified the Alaska State Troopers that the pair of ATV drivers were overdue. Then the troopers asked the Coast Guard for aerial support in finding them.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Nate Littlejohn is a 17th CG District public affairs specialist based in Anchorage. He said the men were able to make it to a cabin after being forced to abandon their ATVs.

“An MH-60 Jayhawk crew from Air Station Kodiak located the men after detecting their heat signatures inside a cabin near Saltery Cove,” Littlejohn said. “As the helicopter approached the cabin the crew could see smoke rising from the chimney and the word ‘HELP’ spelled out spelled out in driftwood in the cabin’s driveway.”

Littlejohn said it took two tries to find the men. The first trip out, helicopter crew searched for several hours in low visibility before finding the two ATVs — but not the drivers. But by then the copter was low on fuel so had to pause the search to return to the Air Station to top up.

“After refueling they headed out and began double-checking some of the places where they had already looked, which included numerous cabins near the abandoned ATVs,” Littlejohn said. “The helicopter crew used a forward-looking infrared camera on the helicopter to look for human heat signatures and they found the men in a cabin they had already checked earlier in the day. The crew landed in a grassy area about 300 yards from the cabin and took the men aboard.”

Littlejohn said the men were in the early stages of hypothermia when they entered the cabin and started a fire to get warm.

He said the take-away from this incident is that the men did just what a person in trouble should do if they are out in the weather and facing hypothermia.

“They found the closest logical option to warm themselves very quickly. And they also found a way to attract the attention of search crews,” Littlejohn said. “We were just very happy to be able to work with the Alaska State Troopers and bring these folks home to their families.”

The two men were reunited with their families on the tarmac at Air Station Kodiak.

They told the Coast Guard they became stranded after one ATV had broken down and the other got stuck in the mud.

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Maggie Wall is a reporter at KMXT in Kodiak.

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