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2 men missing after ditching plane in Lake Clark area found alive

Michelle Theriault Boots
Photo courtesy Matthew MintonMatthew Minton and his father James Minton pose on a past hunting trip in Alaska. James Minton of Wilkesboro, N.C. and his friend Patrick Williams of Salem, Ore. spent more than 30 hours in their downed airplane on remote tundra near Lake Clark before trying to walk out to the village of Nondalton. When they were rescued by an Alaska State Troopers helicopter on Sunday afternoon they had walked eight miles from the crash site.
Matthew Minton and his father, James Minton, pose on a past hunting trip in Alaska. James Minton of Wilkesboro, N.C. and his friend Patrick Williams of Salem, Ore. spent more than 30 hours in their downed airplane on remote tundra near Lake Clark before trying to walk out to the village of Nondalton. When they were rescued by an Alaska State Troopers helicopter on Sunday afternoon they had walked eight miles from the crash site.
Photo courtesy Matthew Minton

After 30 hours stranded on sodden tundra near Lake Clark, Patrick Williams and James Minton were ready to get out.

So they decided to walk from the site of their downed airplane to the nearest village, Nondalton, some 11 wild miles away.

Troopers found the men Sunday afternoon just a few miles from the village.

They had been reported missing two days earlier, prompting an air search by law enforcement and volunteers in Southwest Alaska.

On Thursday afternoon, Minton, 65, of Wilkesboro, N.C., and Williams, 53, of Salem, Ore., were scouting for a moose hunting camp spot in the Nondalton area when the yellow Piper J-3 Williams was flying suddenly lost engine power, according to Alaska State Troopers and family members of the men.

Williams was able to make an emergency landing north of Nondalton, said Minton's son Matthew Minton in a phone interview from his home in North Carolina.

"It must have been an amazing landing," he said.

But with no satellite phone or locator beacon, the men had no way to call for help.

They faced a choice: stay with the plane and wait to be rescued. Or walk out.

For the next day, they tried the first technique, Matthew Minton said. They dipped a jar in streams for water, ate trail mix and stayed in the plane in an attempt to keep warm.

But after 30 hours, they'd had enough. They used a GPS to chart a course to the nearest village and left a note on the plane saying they were heading to Nondalton, some 11 miles south through wet terrain studded with alder thickets, said Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters.

They were thrashed by weather and wind, Minton said.

By the time a trooper helicopter spotted them around noon on Sunday they'd walked eight miles, Peters said.

Both were taken to a clinic in Illiamna to get checked out. Neither had major injuries.

"In typical fashion, they were refusing treatment," Minton said.

The two are family friends who've hunted and fished together before. Minton has made several trips to Alaska, his son said, hunting mountain goats on the mountain near Haines, trekking into the Brooks Range and fishing in the Lake Clark area. He is retired from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Minton is married and has two children. Williams, from Oregon, is an experienced pilot and is married with a son, Matthew Minton said.

Minton said his father was shocked to learn how many people had been looking for him.

The families said they wanted to thank law enforcement and search and rescue volunteers who looked for the men during what Minton calls "the longest weekend of our lives.

"We thank them immensely," he said. "We were praying for their safety along with our loved ones."

Tonight, the men are staying in the most comfortable accommodations they could find, Minton said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344

 


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com