The Alaska Dispatch has a long, thoughtful piece on missing German/Wisconsin survivalist Thomas Seibold. He disappeared on the Sungak River, northeast of Ambler, Alaska. Yesterday the Alaska State Troopers announced they were abandoningsearch efforts. But before we all write him off as dead, WC wants to take his readers back to 1963, and the story of Ralph Flores and Helen Klaben.
On February 4, 1963, Ralph Flores crashed his 1942 Howard, a single engine monoplane, about 30 miles southeast of Watson Lake. Flying from Fairbanks to Fort Nelson, British Columbia, he became disoriented in s snowstorm and plowed into a forested ridge. He and his passenger, 21-year old Helen Klaben, were both injured in the crash. Flores wasn’t licensed to fly in instrument conditions, had no survival gear on board and had failed to file a flight plan. It was -48 degrees at the crash site.
There was a search, but the crash site, concealed by the trees, wasn’t seen. Flores and Klaben, too injured to leave, slowly starved. Despite losing some 50 pounds, Flores eventually healed enough to hike on crude snowshoes to a small lake. He stomped out an S.O.S. in the snow. And, 49 days after the crash, bush pilot Chuck Hamilton and his passenger Frank George spotted the S.O.S., and followed Flores’ trail through the snow and found the crash site. 24 hours later, Flores and Klaben were both rescued.
Both had frostbite; Klaben lost some toes. Astonishingly, two individuals with no winter experience and no winter gear, survived 49 days in brutally sub-zero conditions. It was called “a miracle” at the time. Perhaps it was.
If Flores and Klaben could survive 49 days, a trained survivalist may have a chance. The lesson they offer is that people do survive. WC isn’t prepared to give up hope on Seibold yet.