Guard helicopter airlifts snow-stranded ATVers near Willow

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Sunday's snowstorm turned a four-wheeler trip home from a backcountry cabin near Willow into a rescue operation.

An Alaska National Guard helicopter early Monday morning hoisted out three men and a 14-year-old girl -- one of the men's daughters -- after their ATVs foundered in deep snow the day before, Alaska State Troopers said.

No one was seriously hurt, though one of the men apparently suffered some hypothermia.

The group spent a few days at a cabin located about 20 miles down what troopers described at Sheep Creek Trail No. 1 off Amundsen Avenue, which is up the Parks Highway near Caswell Lake.

The group prepared for a four-wheeler trip but not for snow, troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said.

They left the cabin Sunday and got about 12 miles but still had eight more miles to go when they stopped and called for help around 7:30 p.m., troopers said.

One of the men in the group, 47-year-old Todd Sterner of Anchorage, reported the group was stuck and "they were wet and cold and did not have the winter gear needed to survive the evening," an online troopers post said Tuesday.

The group started a fire after Sterner made the call, Ipsen said. That kept them warm for the nearly seven hours until help arrived.

An Alaska State Trooper and Alaska Wildlife Trooper headed up the trail in conditions they described as tough going, 15 to 20 inches of fresh powdery snow without a base layer, she said. It took them four hours, from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., to make eight miles and locate the group.

One of the men appeared to be mildly hypothermic but everyone else was OK, Ipsen said.

Poor trail conditions, however, prevented the troopers from transporting anyone out, she said. They contacted the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center and waited with the party.

The center, located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, launched an HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter from the 210th Rescue Squadron of the Alaska Air National Guard, according to Guard spokesman Sgt. Edward Eagerton. Aboard were two parajumpers from the 212th Rescue Squadron.

Rough terrain forced the helicopter to hoist the stranded group into the helicopter, Eagerton said. Once inside, they got warm fluids and blankets.

By 5:30 a.m., the helicopter dropped off the group at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

This was the second search and rescue linked to people stranded by the snowstorm in the Valley despite National Weather Service forecasts for winter weather.

An Alaska State Troopers helicopter on Monday morning rescued two hikers who encountered deep snow after leaving a mountain hut nine miles up the Gold Mint Trail in Hatcher Pass on Sunday.

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.