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Some Alaska Outdoor Survival Experiences, by M.C.R.

Preparedness is a mental state and  where I live it is extremely unforgiving if you are not ready.

I travel the bush in the state of Alaska as a telecommunication technician which means I travel mostly in small commercial planes or in bush planes along with helicopters, boats and once in a while via snowmobiles (called “snow machines” here) to get to the native villages.

This happened to me in the mid-1980s when Exxon was drilling in Arctic Ocean on a drilling rig called a Concrete Island Drilling Structure (C.I.D.S.). Exxon had chartered a helicopter company to fly supplies and personnel to the drilling rig using the Super Puma helicopter–a very nice rugged helicopter made by the French company Aérospatiale.

I was tasked with making sure the air traffic radio equipment and Non directional beacon systems where working for the flight operations which in this case had failed for some unknown reason so I called up a flight loaded my gear and off we go to the drilling rig.

When we reached about 8,000 foot altitude we ran into some weather. It had mixed snow, rain, sleet at different altitudes and yes this was in early March in the Arctic Ocean

We started to build up major ice on the airframe and the pilots were trying to find warm air to melt the ice off the airframe we went up down and I swear around in the air in circles but it just kept building up on the airframe.

I was in the cargo section with the intercom headphone on when the pilots informed me we would set down on the Ice pack and I was going to get out of the helicopter and proceed to smack the ice off the airframe.

Have you ever played with your kids whiffle ball with a plastic bat? Well we had several those bats on board. So we set down on the sea ice very gently. Luck was with us since we did not punch through the ice or hit a snow pile which could have tilted us side ways which is a bad deal since rotors tend to fly off when the hit something solid like ice.

I slid the door hatch open and it wass about 80 below zero since they still had the rotor spinning so the down draft was very brisk that day. Next, I threw my Arctic survival  river bag out on the ice with a plastic sled strapped to it just in case the helicopter takes off without me or catches on fire or Mr. Murphy just plainly messes with your day.

My sled is an orange kiddies’ sled that can be bought anywhere it has two fiberglas poles attached to it along with a leather belt that attaches to your waist.

In my survival bag is a river bag the largest REI makes–65 Liters–so in this  I carry: 3 days supply of food 5,000 to 6,000 high calorie food(s) canned sardines with oil, salami, cheese, salmon strips   dried moose with fat and if I can get dried seal strips and some seal oil that is good too along with 2 gallons of water,  juices , crackers , candies ,sugar , salt , pepper , teas and instant coffee.  For my winter sleeping bag combo I have an inner bag and outer bag that is water and wind proof and a tent that slips over the bags. I also carry several caribou hides rolled up make very nice ground cloth the hairs are hollow so the retain heat. 

My bag also has lighter, matches, candles with a holder a small camp stove with about a quart of Coleman liquid fuel along with an old military metal canteen cup spoon and fork combo. A small pocket knife and sharpening stone I carry a roll a toilet paper and baby wipes too. Also 2 pairs of socks silk and wool along with a spare set of silk underwear and spare wool gloves

My clothes: I wear silk underwear silk socks then the next layer wool pants wool shirt wool socks and a down vest. For my outer layers I have outer parker made Actionwest FR, Indura down Arctic Parka along with Bib coverall and bunny boots 

Headwear: coRaggs, Ragg Wool Balaclava Facemask/Cap and Headsokz Inc., Black Wind bloc Headsokz.

My gloves are Newberry Knitting, Ragg Wool Mitten along with surplus army mittens and wool five finger gloves

I also carry snow goggles and a wrap around wool face mask so as not to frost your lungs. I also carry a climbing ice axe, Climbing Snow shovel, Ice Crampons and ice pitons screw type along with 50 feet of 3mm utility cord all these items are for ice. I also carried a rubber coated flash light with spare D batteries the rubber coat protects your hand if you have to hold the flashlight without the heavy mittens.

The Ice axe is for getting water smack it into the blue ice not green ice pull out the chunks or out of a snow bank. The snow shovel is for snow caves if you do not have a clue get the OLD Boy Scout manual it is very detailed for ice cave instructions I have used with my own boys and their troop in the Talkeetna Mountains. Ice pitons are for securing a tent in ice along with 3mm utility cord to secure your tent .

Since it was on Exxon company property I left my Remington bolt-action .30-06 along with 40 rounds 180 grain bullets in the carrying case in my room. (Exxon had a strict gun policy.)

So I am out of the helicopter with the plastic bat along with the copilot and we proceed to beat the helicopter to death but gently since it has pitot tubes and all kind of flight sensors that can be damaged so it was go slowly but methodically.

It took about 15 minutes to get the majority of the ice off the airframe and all this time the rotors were spinning the turbines were screaming and the pilot is looking real serious because the helicopter is burning flight fuel.

So when the copilot gave the thumbs up I threw my bag back on board closed the door hatch securely strapped myself in pulled my head gear off and put the headset on so I could sweat with the pilots as we lift off the ice. The pucker factor had been very high as we took off skimming the ice toward the oil rig as we gained some altitude all of us were looking out every window for more ice buildup which for us did not appear. So Mr. Murphy had his fun with us for that day.

So we all made it to the rig I fixed the equipment and went back to Deadhorse about a week later on the same helicopter I was flying with a news crew  a women reporter and her camera crew they are doing a report on the C.I.D.S. oil platform. As we are cruising she asked me why all the gear I said,” We went down on the Ice last week due to ice buildup on this helicopter. Looking her over, I stated: “The way you are presently dressed you are going to die if we have a malfunction and stay on the Arctic ice.”  

The woman reporter gave me a funny look. So being an ex-military NCO I do not mince words. She could get us killed with her ignorance. So I treated her and her crew like raw recruits but minus the shouting. I said bluntly: “Your outfit is nice (she had a matching dress, light jacket, ankle boots and gloves) but do you realize we are flying and it is -40F outside? If we have to do an emergency landing on the ice you have about 30 minutes before cold takes your toes, fingers, legs, face and then your life. You should be wearing Arctic clothing from Refrigiwear along with the boots which Exxon has for visitors on their main compound.”

“Well no one told me”, she said. But I laughed. You see, I was in the safety briefing room along with her and it was mandatory to attend. She was too busy being a news reporter to pay attention. I pointed to her crew they had the gear from Exxon it was large ugly and bulky but it was on them so they would survive. She was angry but before she could get a word in to teach me a lesson from upon her throne I said: “You’re just a pampered fool and you’re not worth my time or knowledge to save your a**.”

“What?” she asked. My guess is she had never been talked to that way before by an Alaskan so I laughed, “Ponder this, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.'” I told her that her profession should be under this heading: “The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fool feeds on folly.”

Then I pulled out my Bible and read to her from Ephesians 6 : 10-18:

“10 Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord and in the might of his power. 11 Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. 12 For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. 13 Therefore, take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day and to stand in all things perfect. 14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth and having on the breastplate of justice: 15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. 16 In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. 17 And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God). 18 By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit: and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints/”

I had just called her a tool of the devil it just shut her down so the rest of the trip was silent, so I put on the intercom head phones to listen to the pilots and took a cat nap.

She did her interviews and the news piece. The fool flew back wearing another dress to Dead Horse the next day. Some people will just not learn.

All these years later I think God put me in the helicopter with her to test her that day even though I had no clue I was a tool for God on that day too.