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An unexpected journey

Survival

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Austin Collier, a 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator, stands on a snow bank Feb. 8, 2018, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. After killing a caribou, Collier became stranded in the Alaskan wilderness in below-freezing conditions for multiple days before he hiked his way to safety. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Weaver)

Survival

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Austin Collier, a 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator, lights a fire Feb. 8, 2018, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Collier spent three days in below-freezing conditions with little more than a lighter. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson)

Survival

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Austin Collier, a 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator, looks out at the Alaskan landscape Feb. 8, 2018, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. While out hunting, Collier became stranded in the Alaskan wilderness in freezing conditions for three days before navigating his way back to safety. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

“I kept a positive attitude the entire time. I feel that keeping my attitude in check and staying focused on the goal of finding the road was key to my survival.” -A1C Austin Collier.

The winters are dark, the sunlight scarce and the temperatures are below freezing, but for many Alaskans and military members, one of the greatest delights of being in the Last Frontier is enjoying the great outdoors, especially hunting.

Airman 1st Class Austin Collier was one of them; he was excited to adventure into the wilderness to try his hand at hunting. But he didn’t expect to face the challenge of surviving in the wilderness for three days.

Collier and his hunting partner navigated the terrain, trying to bring back a caribou. But after some troubles with his snow machine, Collier’s friend changed his mind and headed back to the road. Collier decided to continue the hunt on his own.

He told another friend if he didn’t make it back by dark to tell someone where he was.

“When I went back out alone, I saw a herd and followed it,” said Collier, whose job in the Air Force is as a vehicle operator. “I went into a bowl type terrain near a few mountains.”

Once he had his caribou, he attempted to head back home, but he wasn’t fully prepared for the adventure that followed.

“I kept getting stuck and I was making no progress at getting out of the bowl,” said Collier. “So I dug out a hole next to my snow machine to stay in for the night.”

He found some branches and with a lighter and a little bit of gas he started a fire, but the branches weren’t able to sustain the flames. Collier pulled his jet sled over top of him to keep himself out of any potential snow fall throughout the five-degree night.

“The next morning I decided to leave the snow machine and head for the direction I thought the road was in,” he said. “I had two bottles of water, extra socks, gloves and the winter gear I had on.”

He had trouble walking through the deep, powdery snow, making his trek slow but steady. The brief Alaskan days did him no favors and darkness was upon him yet again. Collier was forced to take shelter for his second night in the wilderness.

“When I woke up the third morning, I couldn’t feel my feet anymore,” he said. “I could barely stand to walk and I figured frostbite was starting to set in.”

After a couple hours of walking, struggling with each step, he found a snow machine trail that made the journey easier. The end was in sight. Just before he reached the road, he saw the troopers who were out searching for him.

Upon his return to civilization, he was looked over by the hospital staff who diagnosed frostbite and frost nip on his toes.

“It didn’t hurt much at first,” Collier said. “But after about a week, it was so painful I couldn’t walk. It still isn’t completely healed, but the doctors said I should make a full recovery.”

Looking back on his unexpected journey, Collier thought of the things he could have and will do differently the next time he goes out to hunt.

“I will definitely bring food and supplies to last a few days, as well as grab a safety beacon from the safety office,” he explained.

A personal locator beacon, often referred to as a safety beacon, is used in the event of an emergency to send out a distress signal to inform the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center of your location. When they receive that signal, they will start emergency rescue procedures. The PLB can be checked out of the 354th Fighter Wing Safety Office at no cost.

“Alaska is full of wilderness experiences, but it also poses many dangers with wildlife and exposure to the elements,” said Tech. Sgt. Ashley Pascas, a 354th FW occupational safety technician. “Personal locator beacons are recommended for even the most experienced outdoor enthusiasts, whether you are planning a day-fishing trip or weekend-hunting trip.”

Throughout the three days Collier spent exposed to the harsh winter elements, he said he only let himself worry for a minute. This is probably one of the most important factors that allowed him to survive this ordeal.

“Whether you have all the gear and training in the world or have no training and minimal gear, makes little difference in many survival situations,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffery Campbell, a Detachment 1, 66th Training Squadron survival, evasion, resistance, and escape specialist. “A person with a positive attitude always seems to make it work and finds their way home, regardless of the situation.”