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Pilot's survival skills tested

Posted: Monday, November 29, 2004

 

  Michael Holman, 45, of Palmer, Alaska, is greeted by his wife, Nicki, right, his son, Charlie, 12, left, and his daughter Laura, 9, obscured at lower center, on his arrival at Kulis Air National Guard base in Anchorage, Alaska, Sunday Nov. 28, 2004. Holman was rescued Sunday from Koyuktolik Bay, after being missing for six days when he failed to arrive Monday in Seldovia aboard his private plane. Holman got a six-day test of his survival skills in Alaska's winter wilderness when the incoming tide destroyed his plane, stranding him at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. AP Photo/Al Grillo

Michael Holman, 45, of Palmer, Alaska, is greeted by his wife, Nicki, right, his son, Charlie, 12, left, and his daughter Laura, 9, obscured at lower center, on his arrival at Kulis Air National Guard base in Anchorage, Alaska, Sunday Nov. 28, 2004. Holman was rescued Sunday from Koyuktolik Bay, after being missing for six days when he failed to arrive Monday in Seldovia aboard his private plane. Holman got a six-day test of his survival skills in Alaska's winter wilderness when the incoming tide destroyed his plane, stranding him at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

AP Photo/Al Grillo

ANCHORAGE Michael Holman landed his plane on a deserted part of the Koyuktolik Bay shore, hoping to do a little beachcombing before making the short hop to Seldovia about 15 miles away.

Instead, the 45-year-old pilot got a six-day test of his survival skills in Alaska's winter wilderness when the incoming tide destroyed his plane, stranding him at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

Searchers had been scanning the shorelines for the Palmer resident since last Monday when he failed to arrive in Seldovia, about 140 miles southwest of Anchorage. Holman spent nearly a week isolated, but well-supplied and unhurt when rescuers finally picked him up Sunday.

Flanked by his wife and two children, Holman recounted his ordeal moments after arriving by rescue helicopter to Kulis Air National Guard Base in Anchorage.

Unshaven and still smelling of the campfire that ultimately clued rescuers in on his location, Holman said he returned to his plane last Monday after spending half an hour on the beach only to find it wouldn't start.

The tide rolled and he salvaged food, a tent, a gun and other supplies before the water washed over and destroyed the plane. One item he forgot, though, was his emergency locator beacon.

Holman said his main priority those first nights was keeping warm and dry, while thoughts of his family passed the time.

After three days of waiting, he realized that nobody was going to find him where he was and he decided to move on.

Holman left his tent and most of his supplies, carrying just two cans of sardines with him for food.

''I knew I was out of the search area,'' he said. ''In three days of sitting on the beach, I hadn't seen a single airplane, not a single boat. The map I had was kind of poor for land navigation, but ... I figured that would be the best alternative, to try and walk out.

Holman said he trekked across rough terrain from 4 a.m. until 9 p.m. Friday, stopping in the darkness when he came upon an empty fishing lodge that had once been an old logging camp. There, he found cabins, water, a better map, a bag of rice and most importantly, a handheld radio.

A Coast Guard crew picked up Holman's message Saturday and was able to spot him with the help of a bonfire he burned, but wind gusts prevented a helicopter rescue that night.

Holman said because he was so well-equipped, he never let his fears get the best of him.

''Actually, I've got to be honest and say I never reached desperation stage,'' Holman said. ''That doesn't negate the absolute joy I felt at seeing the helicopter this morning. Maybe if I hadn't contacted the Coast Guard in time and they hadn't shown up, then maybe, but I didn't feel any desperation.''

Early Sunday morning, Holman made his way to a nearby beach, where Air National Guard rescuers picked him up, returned to his original landing site for the rest of his gear, and flew him to Anchorage.

His family was waiting for him when the helicopter landed. His children, 12-year-old Charlie and 9-year-old Laura, ran to hug him as he stepped onto the icy tarmac. His wife, Nicki, followed, and the family stood in an embrace for several minutes before Holman was led away to tell his story to state troopers.

Nicki Holman said the past week had been an emotional roller coaster as she waited for word of her husband. Searchers first believed they spotted a patch of ice on Turnagain Arm where the plane may have gone through, but a later search showed Holman had not landed there.

Nicki Holman then sat by the phone as crews searched through the short Alaska days battling snow, rain and wind gusts of up to 80 mph.

''The nights were so long and the days were so short when I knew they were out searching for him. I wasn't perhaps confident anymore as some of those guys at the rescue center,'' Nicki Holman said. ''I was starting to give up hope.''

The Civil Air Patrol and others focused on a 4,000-square-mile area over the Kenai Peninsula.

Michael Holman said his blue and white Maule ML-7 had been destroyed and there was no chance of recovering it. But Sunday, his focus was on other matters.

''I've got visions of cheeseburgers,'' he said.



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