- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

BANCROFT, Idaho (AP) - James Gilbert wasn’t expecting to be hunting coyotes for very long.

The 34-year-old Bancroft resident jumped on his snowmobile and rode off from his home at approximately 1 p.m. on the last Saturday in January. For the next few hours, he searched for coyotes in the snow-covered flats east of his Bancroft residence. However, the varmints were nowhere to be found.

Then suddenly, his snowmobile quit on him. He ran out of fuel, reported the Idaho State Journal (https://bit.ly/2kToE7z).

As the sun began to set, Gilbert found himself stranded approximately 4 1/2 miles away from his house with no food, no water, no shelter and no fire-starting equipment.

“I just had my gun and my sled,” he said.

Snowed In

With the sun setting, the temperature dropping and night rapidly approaching, he abandoned his snowmachine and started marching west toward his residence.

Gilbert could clearly see numerous Bancroft houselights glowing in the distance. Directly behind him beamed a giant light from a nearby limestone mine, which he used as a sort of a compass to help keep him oriented.

“I kept looking back and forth,” he said. “If I could see that mine light, I knew I was going in the right direction.”

Gilbert made it approximately 2 miles before the elements started to completely wear him down. Not only was the temperature quickly descending into negative numbers, but the snow drifts were at least knee-high in most places. Walking through such heavy powder exhausted his leg muscles.

“The snow was over my knees and I wasn’t touching the ground in some places,” he said. “If I was touching the ground, the snow would have been up to my waist.”

Then, as a heavy fog began to descend on the valley, the lights that he was relying on to guide him home began to disappear.

“It started to fog up on me and I couldn’t see nothing,” he said. “I just had a gut feeling that I better just build a snow cave.”

Using his hands and arms, Gilbert dug a bowl-shaped hole in the snow that was large enough to fit his body.

Then he made a roof over the bowl to protect him from the extreme conditions.

Though he didn’t have any food or water, he was wearing warm clothes, which he used to his best advantage by pulling his arms through the sleeves of his coat and keeping them close to his body for warmth.

It was definitely going to be a long night.

Minus 15 Degrees

At 9:10 p.m., Gilbert’s family contacted the Caribou County Sheriff’s Office because they hadn’t seen him since he left to go hunting earlier that afternoon.

The sheriff’s office called in additional deputies, the county’s search and rescue team and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to mount a nighttime rescue mission. However, the harsh elements did not work in the first responders’ favor, particularly as the visibility deteriorated due to the heavy fog and the temperature dropped to minus 15 degrees.

Even the searchers’ snowmobiles started having mechanical problems because of the below-zero temperatures.

“We made a few snowmobile runs, but it was especially difficult,” said Matt Galloway, chief deputy with the Caribou County Sheriff’s Office. “We didn’t know where (Gilbert) was at, so we did some grid searches in the area.”

First responders searched for approximately four hours. However, the search was called off at approximately 2:30 a.m. due to the extreme conditions.

No Long-Term Problems

After a long, cold, lonely night in the snow cave, Gilbert emerged the next morning. He was still physically exhausted from having to march through the huge snow drifts the day before, and he still had 2 1/2 miles to go before reaching his home.

Luckily, he would only have to trek 40 yards away from the snow cave before rescuers found him.

Earlier that morning, the first responders called in an air ambulance helicopter from Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello to help search the area from above. It didn’t take the helicopter too long to spot the weakened Gilbert trying to make his way through the snow.

Gilbert watched the helicopter circle around him at approximately 9:15 a.m. and then leave.

Soon afterward, a group of rescuers who were alerted by the helicopter crew picked Gilbert up and took him back to Bancroft on their snowmobiles. From there, he was transported by ground ambulance to Caribou Memorial Hospital in Soda Springs to be treated.

Aside from being physically drained by the whole ordeal, Gilbert was deemed healthy and sent home.

“The good thing is he had survival skills,” Galloway said. “He ended up not suffering from any frostbite or hypothermia or any long-term problems.”

Once Gilbert got home, he got a good night’s sleep. Later, he returned to work as usual that Tuesday.

“It was all just a relief,” he said about the conclusion of his ordeal. “That cave pretty much kept me alive.”


Information from: Idaho State Journal, https://www.journalnet.com

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