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Stranded in the Tundra

Stranded in the Tundra

GREGORY SANCHES
Garrison Safety
Fort Wainwright, Alaska

Jim — that’s not his real name, but we’ll use it for easy reference — had big plans for his fall moose hunt. Jim, who was stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, had contracted a guide to take him hunting. Looking to make the most of their time, the pair decided to ride their all-terrain vehicles to the jump-off point for the hunt, leave them there and then return in a light plane from a nearby airstrip. When it was time for the hunt, the pair planned to fly back out to the strip and pick up their ATVs and gear.

The day came for Jim and his guide to meet and ride their ATVs to the drop off point. Jim was confident about the ride; he’d already spent a lot of time camping and hunting in the back country. This was a piece of cake — or so he figured — so he didn’t bother letting anyone else know where he was going, what trail he was using or when he was due back.

As the pair rode their ATVs down the trail, Jim got ahead of his guide. Instead of waiting for him to catch up, he kept pushing on, thinking he could find his own way to the drop-off point. After going some distance, Jim lost the trail but thought he could still make it by taking off across the tundra and heading toward Iowa Ridge. However, he didn’t have a map, compass or his portable GPS equipment with him. Beyond that, he was familiar with the terrain he was now in.

As he rode, Jim’s heavily loaded ATV began to overheat, ultimately shorting out the electrical system. Fortunately for Jim, he was able to pull start the engine once it cooled down. But he was now lost and, as night fell, he decided to camp next to his machine, fighting off the chilly temperatures by staying warm in his sleeping bag.

The next day, Jim headed out again across the tundra. As he rode through the rugged terrain, the ATV tipped onto its side. Try as he might, Jim could not get it back onto its wheels. Stranded, he spent his second night in the wilderness, camped out beneath a tarp next to his machine. The next day brought rain, wind and temperatures that dropped into the 40s as Jim hunkered down beneath the tarp. To make matters worse, he was almost out of gas. Even if he could get the machine back onto its wheels and running, he didn’t have enough gas to get to somewhere he’d be safe. The only good news was that Jim had his cellphone and could keep his family apprised of the situation.

The next day, his family called the Alaska State Troopers to tell them Jim was stranded and provide a general idea of where he was. The troopers launched a helicopter and, after a couple of hours, found Jim. Unable to land because of the rugged terrain, the troopers contacted medical evacuation personnel at Fort Wainwright, who successfully got to Jim. They were able to rescue him and bring him back home, but his ATV had to be left where it was, stranded in the tundra. This was not exactly the way Jim had envisioned things going.

As bad as things went, Jim was lucky. Things could have turned out far worse than just being in hot water with his family for screwing up his back-county trip. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see his trip was an accident waiting to happen. Instead of applying risk management to plan for any potential problems, he assumed too much of his own skills. He substituted poor prior planning for risk management and got unpleasant results.

Let’s take a minute to use a little risk management to see how an ATV trip into the back country could have been better planned.

First, don’t get cocky because you’ve done something in the past and assume you can take shortcuts. You don’t know everything that could happen. Because of that, check your survival equipment to ensure you’re carrying everything you’d need should you become lost or stranded. No one plans on getting lost or stranded, but once you are, you’ll have to survive on what you brought with you.

Second, always tell someone responsible where you’re going and leave a detailed map with them. Establish certain checkpoints along your route and, when you reach them, contact that responsible person. That way, should something happen, it will be a lot easier for searchers to find you.

Third, never travel alone in the back country. Even if your guide is moving slower than you want to, stay with them. They know where they’re going; you may only think you know. This is especially true when traveling through unfamiliar terrain. Also, common sense dictates taking a map, compass and, if you have one, GPS so you can keep track of your position.

Remember, the back country can be very unforgiving of mistakes. Before you go out, make sure you’ve got a good plan to come back.

  • 1 November 2015
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10294
  • Comments: 0
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