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Men use tow rope to fish yearling moose out of thawing Chena River

Posted: Wednesday, March 01, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A snowmachine ride on the Chena River turned into an unexpected fishing expedition Monday afternoon for Bret Helgeson when he pulled a yearling moose out of the river's icy grasp with the help of his father and a 20-foot tow rope.

''I've killed a lot of moose, but this is the first one I've ever saved,'' said Helgeson, 29. ''There's a big difference ... (between hunting) and just sitting around and watching one drown.''

Helgeson had been out enjoying the sun and snow when he stopped his Arctic Cat to make a call on his cell phone. During the call, he noticed a moose walk onto the river. Shortly after he hung up, he saw the moose plunge through the ice.

Bret's next call was to his father, Jim Helgeson, who started dialing local agencies for help.

Bret Helgeson kept up a one-sided conversation with the bawling, struggling moose, then called a friend, Darryl McCollough, who lives nearby. He left the moose for a short time to pick up McCollough and his camera.

By the time Helgeson and McCollough returned, the moose had dipped under the water, was covered with ice and was tiring rapidly. While the men waited for help, they checked the ice thickness and continued to talk to the moose.

''I told him, 'Hold on buddy, help is on the way,''' Bret Helgeson said.

But the only help that arrived was Jim Helgeson on his snowmachine with a 20-foot tow rope.

The Helgesons decided to act. They made a noose with a non-cinching knot and Bret Helgeson crept over the rotten ice with the rope in one hand, his father holding the free end. As he inched toward the hole in the ice, he continued to talk to the moose.

''He knew we were there to help,'' Bret Helgeson said, grinning. ''He stuck his head right out to get that rope around his neck.''

Bret clung to the taut tow rope with one hand, and grasped one of the moose's forelegs with the other, while Jim Helgeson started pulling his son and the moose to firmer ice.

''He (the moose) collapsed as soon as we got him out,'' said Bret.

Father and son stayed with the moose, which lay on the ice for about a half-hour, rubbing and nuzzling the men as they cleared its eyes and ears of ice.

With some effort and a few tugs on the moose's beard, Bret and his dad managed to get the moose to its feet.

''As soon as we got him standing, he started rubbing his head up and down on my leg and under my arm, and he just kept his head there,'' said Bret.

''He was totally thankful. I'm sure he'd have bought me a beer in the local tavern if he could have.''

The Helgesons aren't sure if the moose survived after its rescue. But they said the moose would have drowned if they had waited for Fish and Game to arrive. A team from the agency did show up shortly after the animal had been pulled from the water.

According to Cathie Harms, a Fish and Game spokeswoman, the agency will respond to calls about moose caught in river ice when the incident happens within town or in a heavily populated area. Responding to out-of-town moose incidents are decided on a case-by-case basis, she said.

''It is a dangerous situation,'' said Harms. ''If ice is thin enough for moose to go through, people can go through, too.''

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