John DeLong, the Sitka hunter rescued by the Coast Guard last Wednesday (11-19-14) spent a long, cold night under a tree before the helicopter came to hoist him to safety.
And to hear him tell it, the rescue operation was a thrilling one.
“It was pretty exciting that to go into that box that they have to lift people up from the helicopter,” said DeLong. “The downdraft from the blades was pretty breezy.”
DeLong, 69, said that a strong breeze is what got him in trouble in the first place.
He set off on a three-day hunting trip Tuesday morning (11-18-14). But after he anchored near Picnic Cove, his boat drifted towards the shore. The boat ran up on the rocks during low tide and filled with water during high tide.
“I made a couple of mistakes and it cost me,” said DeLong, who has been hunting in Alaska for 29 years. “That’s part of living in Alaska. You make enough mistakes and it’s going to cost you big time.”
After shooting a buck, DeLong got turned around and walked six hours in the wrong direction. The sun set before he could find his boat, so he spent the night beneath a cedar tree in the Carmel Mountain area, about 12 miles south of Sitka. The next morning, he called his wife, who called the police.
DeLong said, “By then, I knew I was hypothermic. I was shaking pretty bad. I had a very difficult time walking.”
The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter from Air Station Sitka at 7 a.m., and DeLong was rescued within the hour.
He’s since returned to retrieve his boat, but was unsuccessful. If that’s the bad news, there is at least a silver lining, he says.
“Everybody’s been very positive, not about losing the boat, but about living. And that’s the big thing. You can always replace things like boats, but once you’re dead, you’re dead.”
DeLong said it would have been difficult to hunker down for another night, and he’s thankful to the Coast Guard for a very timely rescue.