Craig Johnson was on his way to visit family for the holidays when his snowmobile fell through the ice in the wilderness near Wainwright, Alaska on December 15. The 38-year-old spent the next three days trying to survive in sub-zero temperatures and even fought off a wolverine at one point. Suffering from frostbite, dehydration, injuries sustained from the snowmobile crash, and hypothermia, Johnson was finally rescued on December 18. Not surprisingly, many people involved with the rescue effort called the man’s survival nothing less than a miracle—and that includes Johnson himself.
“I almost gave up […] but I couldn’t give up. I had to do it for my boys, my family,” he told ABC News. “I think it’s a miracle that I’m alive.”
You can watch an emotional interview with Johnson below:
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Johnson explained that his own father died in 1998 after falling through the ice and drowning. Not wanting his own children to be left without a father, Johnson said this drove him to keep moving and to keep trying. That would be easier said than done. When Johnson pulled himself out of the freezing water on Monday, he realized he had absolutely no supplies. The snowmobile had gone into the water and along with it all the gear he had with him. Left with only half-frozen clothes, an unspecified firearm, and his wits, Johnson managed to locate shelter in the form of a platform used by hunters to build tents during the warmer months. According to The Arctic Sounder, Johnson would spend most of his time in the wilderness here, trying to hide from the negative 35-degree chill. He had no way of making a fire and no heat source.
Yet the snowmobiler was not without visitors. Johnson recalled being visited by the local wildlife, including several foxes and one opportunistic wolverine. Although there are few cases of wolverine attacks on humans, the small carnivores can be vicious predators, and there have been cases where wolverines have been reported to bring down prey as large as caribou. The curious animal began stalking Johnson as the man huddled inside an abandoned wooden box. The snowmobiler shot at the animal several times and ended up having to fight it off with a makeshift spear.
Meanwhile, friends and family noted his absence and sent in an overdue person report. Not too long after he went missing, search and rescue teams from Barrow, Wainwright, and Atqasuk set out to bring him home.
“When they found him, he was frozen chest-high,” said April Brower, the director of the North Slope Borough Search and Rescue Department. “From what my guys told me, he was in a lot of pain.”
Johnson said that one of his cousins was in the first search party to find him. After being warmed up, Johnson was later transported to a hospital by helicopter and is now recovering. For at least one man’s family this year, all their holiday wishes have been answered.