Offgrid Survival Survival Story: Hypothermic Helicopter Pilot
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In February 2014, helicopter pilot Bradley Friesen was part of a three-man team who aimed to construct a mountain-top hockey rink in Vancouver, Canada. Due to cold conditions on the mountain, Friesen's Robinson R44 helicopter had to be started every two hours to keep the engine warm — but as the men prepared to leave at the end of the day, it failed to start. They were stranded on the mountain overnight, and Friesen recalls that he nearly died in this survival situation. He tells the story in the 16-minute video below, as well as in a text post on Reddit.
Friesen's testimony provides several valuable survival lessons — keep these in mind on your next adventure.
This is a factor that's by definition difficult (but not impossible) to prepare for. Friesen reported unusually cold -25°C/-13°F weather and 30-knot/35mph winds on the mountainside; he says this was the coldest night ever recorded in February in Vancouver. Even with the best gear and training, surviving outdoors in these intense cold conditions is tough, so it's wise to prepare for conditions that far exceed expectations.
Lack of Preparation
Friesen admits that while his team had a moderate amount of survival gear, and was not wholly unprepared for a night on the mountain, there were several missteps that led to the dangerous situation. For example, despite expected temperatures of -3°C/27°F, Friesen was wearing jeans. He later wrote, “The coldest night ever, we're stuck at 5,200 feet and I was wearing jeans. I had good boots, good gloves, heavy jacket and toque… but jeans. Stupid. I know.”
On the other hand, he had 25 pounds of survival food in the helicopter — not much use when he was nearly freezing to death.
Preparation refers to both gear and training. The men struggled with both. Their improvised snow shelter placed a fire under an overhang of snow, causing it to melt and drip onto Friesen. In retrospect, he wonders why the group didn't simply stay bundled up in the helicopter cockpit.
The men felt confident in their abilities and gear, so rather than activating the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) to call for help right away, they attempted to ride out the cold night. Even with functional cell phones, by the time they tried to call for immediate help, they were in serious danger. In a survival situation, it's often wise to put aside your pride and use every resource you have at your disposal — even if it means relying on a search and rescue operation.
Loss of Reasoning
In the heat of the moment (no pun intended) it can be easy to lose perspective and make rash or illogical decisions — especially in mind-numbing cold weather. Friesen's story about one of the men disappearing alone into the night for 45 minutes to chop down 3 trees for firewood is an example of irrational behavior. The group already had heat from two running snowblowers, 15 gallons of fuel, and several long-burning fire-logs — and the resulting green wood had too much moisture to burn easily, anyway. With a prepared mindset and reinforcement from members of your group, it's possible to keep a level head when SHTF.