Never leave home without it! Alaskan survives three days on frozen beer

on 07/12/11 at 10:08 am

Beer

Clifton Vial, 52, climbed into the cab of his Toyota Tacoma Monday night in Nome to see how far a road winding to the north would take him.

More than 40 miles out of town, at about 9:30 that night, he found out. As Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” played on the stereo and temperature dipped well below zero in the darkness, Vial’s pickup plunged into a snowdrift.

“I made an attempt at digging myself out and realized how badly I was stuck,” said Vial. He was wearing tennis shoes, jeans and a $30 jacket from Sears. “I would have been frostbit before I ever got the thing out of there.”

Vial found himself alone near Salmon Lake, on a road that doubles as a snowmachine trail in the winter and stretches inland from the Bering Sea city. Far beyond the reach of his cellphone, Vial slipped into a fleece sleeping bag liner and wrapped a bath towel around his feet. He occasionally started the truck to run the heater and listen to the radio.

Was anybody talking about him? Did they know he was missing?

By the third day, Vial said, the truck was nearly out of gas.

WIDE-RANGING SEARCH

“I felt really pissed at myself,” Vial said. “I shouldn’t have been out there by myself unprepared for what I knew was possible.”

Normally Vial carries a sleeping bag, extra gasoline and other survival gear in the 2000 Toyota, he said. But on this trip he had few supplies, no food and no water. Even his dogs, a pair of labs that usually accompany him on drives, stayed home.

Vial kept busy trying to think of ways to stay warm. His family was out of town, searchers said. No one would know he was gone until he failed to show up for work at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“He’s a very punctual employee,” said John Handeland, general manager for Nome Joint Utility System, where Vial works as an operator mechanic. “By 4 o’clock we figured something was wrong,”

No one could reach Vial on the phone. Co-workers patrolling the town that night found no sign of his pickup.

Handeland called police on Wednesday when Vial missed work for a second day.

The Nome Volunteer Fire Department was alerted and Vial’s co-workers and volunteer rescuers drove surrounding roads in search of the Toyota.

One searcher drove 41 miles along Kougarok Road — just a few miles from where Vial sat shivering and stranded in his pickup — but saw no tracks. The searcher turned back as daylight disappeared and the road conditions worsened, Handeland said.

Troopers joined the search. Rescuers looked for Vial on the ground and from the air, in planes and from a helicopter.

“When we get called on situations like this, it’s a needle in a haystack,” said Jim West Jr., a Nome fire department captain and search and rescue coordinator.

For Vial, the cold was worse than the hunger, he said. Still he scoured the pickup in vain for food.

His only provisions: Snow, and a few cans of Coors Light that had frozen solid in the cab.

Vial ate the beers like cans of beans. “I cut the lids off and dug it out with a knife,” he said.

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