Teenagers survive blizzard by burning their snowmobile

10:41 PM, Feb 21, 2012   |    comments
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Seventeen-year-old Justin McAlexander, 17-year-old Jessie Burke and 13-year-old Mason Burke got stranded on Sunday near Freeman Reservoir, north of Craig. They were supposed to return home by 5 that evening, but their snowmobiles got caught in 2 to 3 feet of snow.

"I called in search and rescue and told them where we were," Justin said. "Then I started digging a pit, which I dug about 6 or 7 feet down. I pulled my friend Jessie in because his foot was frozen and I pulled his little brother into the pit."

Justin says he then collected some firewood and lit a small fire inside the pit. That fire lasted for about five hours, but when that went out the boys sat in the cold for about two hours.

That's when Justin took matches from a survival kit he had with him, and threw a match into the fuel tank of the snowmobile. He said that burned for about two hours.

"That's the only thing that we've got left to burn," Justin said. "It was gasoline and we all know that gasoline catches fire real quick. So I lit a match dropped it in the tank and figured, if anything, that would give them a big enough flame to see us."

Justin has been in Boy Scouts for 10 years. His dad, Bruce, says survival training taught in Boy Scouts kept Justin and his friends alive. Justin had packed a survival kit and had been through wilderness survival training which taught him how to make a snow pit.

Even though he had training, Justin said it didn't take away from the fear of it all.

"We tried to stay calm," Justin said. "There were some times that we figured that they just stopped looking for us, figured we were dead."

Justin was able to send text messages throughout the night to tell search and rescue where they were, although his phone could no longer make calls.

Crews finally reached the three boys at about 8 a.m. Monday, about 15 hours after the search began.

Jessie and Mason were taken to the hospital to be observed from injuries from the extreme cold. They've both since been released and are doing just fine.

Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz says everyone who helped in the search for the boys went above and beyond the call of duty. He also says the three boys did the right thing by staying where they were.

"As far as rescuers, we try to tell people to stay put," Jantz said. "If possible, stay with your vehicle, stay in one location so crews can find you."

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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