FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) – A father and son on an Arctic rafting expedition survived a plunge under river ice and five days without food or supplies, rescuers said.

Blake Stanfield of Seward and his father, Neil, of Oklahoma City, were found “starving and tired and exhausted” before being flown out of the wilderness early Wednesday by an Army helicopter, said 1st Lt. Wesley Madden, an Army pilot.

Blake Stanfield’s wife, Shelly, said her husband called her Wednesday morning.

“He was pretty emotional,” she said. “He said they almost died and that it was awful and they lost all of their supplies. I had no idea, but it’s weird, I couldn’t sleep on those nights. I was having all these awful thoughts.”

The pair lost most of their supplies Friday when they and their raft were sucked under a large patch of ice near the Arctic Circle, about 65 miles northeast of the town of Bettles, Madden said.

They said they were trapped under a 30-foot-long section of ice on the North Fork of the Koyukuk River before surfacing. The break lasted long enough for them to grab a breath before being swept underneath an even longer section of ice, said Chief Warrant Officer Keith Northcutt, another Army pilot.

“The only thing that saved them was a little pocket where they could hold their head and breathe,” Northcutt said. They eventually were swept into ice-free water.

The son – a family doctor known among his colleagues as an avid mountain climber and competitive runner – set his father up in a one-man tent and hiked out to get help, Northcutt said. Shelly Stanfield said her husband started a camp fire with a lighter that had been in his pocket and somehow still worked.

Four days later, a bush pilot spotted the younger Stanfield and returned with another bush pilot. One of the pilots, Berni Hicker, said they dropped a radio and found out what had happened. The other pilot, Dirk Nikisch, then flew around looking for the elder Stanfield.

“It took us a while to find him, but we did,” Hicker said. Nikisch also supplied the coordinates that enabled the Army helicopter to retrieve the Stanfields.

After being found to have no serious medical problems, the Stanfields were flown to Bettles, about 180 miles northwest of Fairbanks.

Shelly Stanfield credited her husband’s athletic skills for the happy ending.

“But it’s awful to think what could have been,” she said.

AP-ES-06-12-03 2035EDT

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