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Utah man survives 23 days in Alaska wilderness, saved writing SOS in snow

Tyson Steele Utah Alaska stranded
Tyson Steele Utah man stranded in Alaska wilderness 23 days before rescue.
Tyson Steele Utah Alaska stranded
Tyson Steele Utah man stranded in Alaska wilderness 23 days before rescue.

Tyson Steele Utah man Alaska drama: Stranded man survives 23 days in the wilderness after his cabin burned down. Rescued after air search crews saw his SOS sign in snow.

A Utah man has managed to survive more than three weeks in the Alaskan wilderness after his remote cabin burned down in mid December before being rescued last week by state troopers who spotted an ‘SOS’ signal he’d posted in the snow.

Tyson Steele, 30 was found Thursday at a makeshift shelter at his remote homestead about 20 miles outside of Skwentna, located about 70 miles northwest of Anchorage, Alaska State Troopers said in a news release.

Officials were conducting a welfare check on Steele after he had not been heard from for ‘several weeks’ when they arrived in a helicopter in the remote area to find the stranded man waving for help and ‘SOS’ stamped in the snow.

‘Steele’s shoulder-length hair, chestnut brown near the roots fading to golden blond near its frayed tips, hung matted and dreadlocks-like over his neck. His auburn beard flowed untrimmed to his chest,’ Alaska State Trooper Ken Marsh wrote in a recap of the rescue. ‘The combination made him seem vaguely reminiscent of actor Tom Hanks’ character in the movie ‘Cast Away.”

Strategy for survival: 

State police said that Steele had been in the makeshift shelter since Dec. 17 or 18, when the roof of his cabin had caught fire after he burned a ‘big piece of cardboard’ in his wood-stove. He believed a spark from the cardboard ended up setting the roof ablaze of the cabin he had been living alone in since September.

Steele said he’d managed to grab a handful of supplies from his burning cabin but most of his possessions, including his six-year-old dog Phil, didn’t make it.

The fire had left Steele with no way to communicate. Besides having a non-working phone and no map, the 30-year-old was in a location with miles of forests, hills, rivers, and lakes that left him separated him from the road system.

‘He had no snow-machine. And his nearest neighbor was 20 miles away, in the tiny community of Skwentna,’ Marsh noted.’Steele’s only way in or out of the wilderness was by air charter.’

The 30-year-old said he was concerned about trying to make the trek and falling through rivers that had not yet frozen over, and he only would have about six hours of daylight to attempt to travel through ‘a tremendous amount of powder’ from recent snows. His snowshoes had burnt up in the blaze, and he was only left with boots and ‘crappy socks that were full of holes’ to walk through feet of snow.

Steele said the entire time he remained hopeful that someone would contact the air service to look for him after not hearing for him.

Tyson Steele Utah Alaska stranded
Tyson Steele Utah Alaska stranded.

‘I was tempted to kill myself, I didn’t know if I’d survive.’

The first two nights after the blaze Steele spent in a snow cave before he was able to put together a makeshift shelter from what remained from his now-burned out cabin, scavenging together tarps and scrap lumber to build a tent-like shelter around the wood-stove.

‘Once I got the second shelter built, I kept a fire in the wood-stove perpetually. And I basically use that to heat up my food,’ he recounted to police. ‘It’s not about keeping the shelter warm, because it basically just took that edge off.’

Steele rationed some 30 days of food that he was able to salvage since a lot was melted or destroyed in the fire.

‘I’m allergic to pineapples,’ he told Fox 13 on Saturday after making it home to his family’s home in Utah. ‘I ate them anyway because it’s what I had.’

Steele also spoke of the temptation to to end his life when he thought he may not survive in the wilderness.

‘It’s a very real thought that crept up almost daily, especially real cold nights,’ Steele recounted.

Steele told police his plans, for now, are to go Salt Lake City to be with his family before eventually making a return to Alaska.