18-year-old Phillip and 16-year-old Sam Charlie of Bethel left Monday morning going west on the Atmautluak trail to go ptarmigan hunting.
“It was a good morning but getting cloudy. And I told them that the weather’s going to get nasty and there’s a storm coming in,” said the boy’s father, Ray Charlie.
Charlie said he told his boys to not go far and turn back if the weather got worse.
The weather did take a turn and snow started to fall making it easy to get disoriented.
The boys called Charlie that afternoon saying they got turned around and did not know which direction home was.
Chralie said he contacted Bethel Search and Rescue, which sent a team out along the trail Monday night, but they had to turn back because of weather.
“All night I think I slept thirty minutes, in between the hours you know,” he said.
Searching began again Tuesday morning, but the boys were still nowhere to be found along the trail.
Search teams from Akiachak, Nunapichak, Napakiak, Napaskiak, Bethel and perhaps more villages, along with Alaska State Trooper Pilots an the Army National Guard were dispatched.
With what little cell phone battery they had left, the boys called Tuesday to say they were “OK” and had set up a snow cave to stay warm.
“They put a trace for which cell antenna it was coming from. It was in the range of four to five miles from Atmaultaluk antenna.”
Several planes and a helicopter circled the area, but could not locate the boys through the blowing wind and snow.
Charlie said he became more and more nervous as Tuesday folded into Wednesday morning.
Then at around 10:30 Wednesday morning he got a call saying Alaska State Trooper Pilot Earl Samuelson spotted the pair walking 22 miles outside of Bethel on the Johnson River walking toward local villages.
“And that’s when we started crying and rejoicing to the lord, praising the lord for help and everything. IT was a really good relief feeling.”
The boys were picked up by the Alaska Army National Guard in a Black Hawk helicopter and transported to the Bethel Hospital for treatment.
They were a little dehydrated and had a few minor spots of frost bite, but other than that Charlie said his boys are fine and in good health. They even insisted on going to school today.
“The Charlie family and my boys, the whole family, want to thank all the search and rescue, all the troopers, the armory helicopter pilots who were involved in this situation. And all the people in the whole delta or the state of Alaska and even down south, Indiana or Louisiana. We thank everybody for their prayers and thoughts to keep support to us.”