Savoonga man spends two days in snow cave before rescue

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A man from the village of Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island spent two days in a snow cave before being rescued Wednesday.

Walter Toolie, 74, got caught in a blizzard Monday evening and his snowmachine ran out of gas as he returned to the village from a whaling camp. He was found by rescue workers Wednesday morning huddled in a snow cave but in good health.

Two other local rescue workers, who disappeared during the two-day search, were found Wednesday, with one suffering from frostbite.

The blizzard hit not long after Toolie began the 45-mile snowmachine trip. Winds were howling to 45 miles per hour and temperatures dipped into the single digits when Toolie lost the trail.

Toolie was dressed warmly and equipped with food, two thermoses of coffee, a hatchet, a tarp, a rifle and a shovel, rescue workers said.

''First, it got me so wet, then it started blowing from the north, it just about freeze me,'' Toolie said Wednesday.

He dug a snow cave and waited.

A search began late Monday when Toolie didn't arrive at home.

By Tuesday evening, the situation became more dire when six rescue workers lost radio contact. Coordinators asked the U.S. Coast Guard to step in, but a helicopter and a C-130, both from Kodiak, were kept at bay that evening by the island's raging storm, the Coast Guard said.

Four of the missing rescue workers returned on their own to Savoonga Tuesday night, but search and rescue workers didn't find Dylan Iya and Raymond Toolie, Walter Toolie's brother, until Wednesday morning. Raymond Toolie was in good shape, but Iya suffered frostbite to his feet and hands.

By Wednesday morning, Gambell rescue workers on the ground spotted Walter Toolie's snowmachine and his snow cave. Toolie was treated for dehydration at the Gambell health clinic and released Wednesday afternoon.

''I feel jolly. Everything seems all right, right now,'' he said.

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