Five moose hunters needed to be rescued from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday night after a rain-swollen creek flooded Mystery Creek Road blocking their return to safety.
One of the hunters, 65-year-old Richard Shanders of Wasilla, was experiencing chest pains and was rescued by Central Emergency Services responders employing swiftwater-rescue techniques. The others were airlifted out by a National Guard "Blackhawk" helicopter.
All five men are now safe.
The ordeal began late Wednesday night after two days of extremely heavy rains pummeled the Kenai Peninsula, swelling creeks and rivers.
Shanders and his hunting partner, Bobby Deason, 55, of Wasilla, decided to end their week-long hunt after Shanders began experiencing chest pains and heartburn, said Shanders' wife, Winnie, from Wasilla on Friday.
Shanders was going to drive his truck to town, but became stuck about 20 miles northeast of Sterling in Mystery Creek, which had swollen to 75-feet across and 5-feet deep. Normally, the creek is less than half that wide and only about 18 inches deep.
The hunter, who has a history of coronary blockage, according to his wife, tried using his cellular phone, but reportedly had no signal. He dialed 911 anyway and surprisingly got a response from an Alaska State Trooper dispatcher in Soldotna.
Deason went to seek help back along Mystery Creek Road, where Russ Lacy, 30, of Soldotna, Adam Kosydar, 17, and his father, Leslie Kosydar, 50, of Sterling, had set up a tent camp.
Lacy and the Kosydars also had cut their hunt short after having no success and the weather had worsened.
CES received a call at 1:37 a.m. Thursday that a man was having chest pains at Mile 10 of Mystery Creek Road and upon arrival found Shanders stuck in his truck in the middle of Mystery Creek with water washing over the hood.
Five CES rescuers, trained in swiftwater rescue, and trooper Sgt. Craig MacDonald used ropes and harnesses to retrieve Shanders.
He was rushed by ambulance to Central Peninsula General Hospital where he was kept overnight for observation.
"He's doing OK now," said his wife. "But he's going to see his cardiologist Monday."
The National Guard helicopter was called in to retrieve the other four men, who were still stranded on the other side of the creek.
"We had been hunting Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday about 30 miles down Mystery Creek Road," Lacy said Friday. "We weren't having any luck and decided to head home, but we couldn't make it out Wednesday night."
Lacy and his brother-in-law and father-in-law -- the Kosydars -- set up their three-person dome tent and planned to stay the night.
"Late that night ... actually now it was Thursday morning ... this older gentleman came and told us he and his partner had gotten stuck and his partner was having chest pains," Lacy said.
The group then assisted rescuers in getting Shanders to safety.
"It was pretty cold, and it was raining," Lacy said. "And the noise from the wind and the rushing creek made it almost impossible to hear the trooper as we yelled back and forth across the creek."
Lacy said when the helicopter arrived, it was decided his party would be hoisted from their campsite.
He said it was the scariest part of the rescue because it was a little windy and they each needed to be lifted about 100 feet off the ground.
"It was pretty heart-pounding," he said. "Then, when they were grabbing me and the crew chief to get us into the helicopter, we both fell onto our sides into the chopper."
The helicopter, which is big enough to carry 10 to 12 people including two pilots, flew the four hunters to Soldotna Municipal Airport where they were met by another trooper.
"We were all OK, and I called relatives to come get us from the airport," Lacy said.
He said his hunting party hopes to continue hunting and retrieve the gear and vehicles after the creek goes down. The late season moose hunt continues through Nov. 20.
For now, though, the refuge has closed Mystery Creek Road.
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