Arctic Angels to the Rescue

With her husband lost in the Alaskan wilderness, she prayed for a miraculous rescue.

by - Posted on Dec 4, 2012

An artist's rendering of an angel shining a light on a search party

Darkness pressed in at my window. I peered into it, searching for a glimmer of headlights from my husband’s four-wheeler. Where are you, Josh? I’d been asking for the last hour and a half.

It wasn’t like him not to be home for dinner by 5:00 p.m. Certainly never this late. Winter nights came early here in Anderson, Alaska. It was early evening, but it might as well have been midnight.

I’d tried not to worry. But the temperature well below zero and falling fast. Josh had been out since morning at the river collecting driftwood to add to our woodpile. Worried? I was a nervous wreck!

I tossed on my parka and ran out to the truck. Josh was out there somewhere alone, unprotected, maybe hurt. It was early enough in the season that parts of the river could still not be frozen solid. Josh could fall through false ice and never get out. I had to find him. And quick.

I drove down to the trailhead. No Josh. Out in the dark, the wind whipped through the trees. Usually I loved our home in the wilds of Alaska, surrounded by nature. Only a few hundred people lived in our village. We were independent types.

But now the wilderness I loved seemed terrifying. I called Josh’s name. Even if he could hear me, he wouldn’t be able to trace my voice to the car. The icy wind scattered voices the way it scattered snowflakes.

I backed the truck down the trail. I’d only gone a few feet when the car stopped moving. I stepped on the gas, but the tires spun in place. That howling wind had polished the frozen road into glass. I was stuck.

Now what? In my worry about Josh, I’d left the house without water. Or a flashlight. No glove warmers. Nothing. Not even an energy bar. I felt completely alone. And however bad I felt, Josh must have been feeling worse.

Dear God, please be with Josh. Send your angels to protect him. Were there even such things as arctic angels? Somehow I couldn’t picture them bundled up in parkas.

I turned off the engine and stepped out of the truck. I couldn’t stand out here for long. I thought of a friend, Linda, from church. She lived a half mile away. I started running, my lungs burning from the cold.

The wind picked up. That meant a storm was coming in. I crashed against Linda’s front door, my legs barely able to carry me one more step.

She opened the door, her eyes wide. “Dolores?” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s Josh,” I said, gasping. “He went out this morning and hasn’t come back.”

“Come in here where it’s warm,” she said. “I’ll call up the fire chief.”

I collapsed by her wood stove while she made the call. “He’s sending out a search party,” she whispered to me as they talked. “He says not to worry.”

How could I not worry? I’d struggled to make the walk to Linda’s house in this cold. Josh was out there all alone. How long would it take to organize a volunteer rescue team? How many people would even be available?

The windows rattled. The storm was getting closer. Soon it would be too dangerous for anyone to be out. Someone definitely needed to worry.

Linda drove me back to my house. I was so grateful not to be alone. I was also grateful for being able to borrow a police scanner from a neighbor. That would allow me to follow the search as it happened.

I set up the scanner while Linda called Connie, another friend from church. There was a knock on the door. The fire chief ’s wife, Wava.

“There’s at least 20 men searching and more on the way,” she said. “There’s men coming in from upriver, from way out in the bush. They’re out in twos on snowmobiles.”

I poured tea for the three of us. Soon Connie arrived. “I brought an UNO deck,” Connie announced, shaking snow out of her hair.

Cards? How could anyone think of playing a game at a time like this? But Connie insisted. While she shuffled the cards I turned up the police scanner to listen to the radio traffic. Voices came and went over the speakers, men checking in with each other out in the woods. It was soothing to listen to them.

But would the help get there in time? Outside the snow was coming down hard. The wind would erase any tracks.

The phone rang, distracting me from my worries. It was my neighbor from across town, just calling to check in. I’d just put down the phone when it instantly rang again and kept ringing.

Friends called. Neighbors. People from church. My minister. The Catholic priest. Wives of men Josh worked with at the power plant. People I barely knew. Everyone said the same thing: “We’re praying for you and Josh. Let us know if there’s anything you need.”

The ladies in my kitchen were praying too, when they weren’t trying to divert me with a new card game.

Just before midnight a voice crackled over the scanner: “I see the four-wheeler! It’s in the river.” The room went silent. The man reported the ATV had fallen through a layer of false ice. But there was no sign of Josh.

It seemed forever before anyone spoke. I thought of Josh, freezing, his clothes soaked from the river. Only a matter of time before hypothermia set in. If it hasn’t already.

“I know it sounds bad,” Linda finally said. “But God’s still in charge. And those guys aren’t going to stop looking until they find him—safe and sound.” She picked up the cards and dealt them. “I don’t think you’ve ever told me what brought you and Josh to Alaska,” she said.

“It was just after we married,” I said. “Josh’s parents lived up here and his dad said he could get him a job. That was twenty-seven years ago. Alaska seemed like the other side of the world...” My voice trailed off.

But my friends were suddenly determined to talk about everything but the search: what they were planning for Thanksgiving, their favorite TV shows, the time Wava fell head first into a store freezer trying to get a turkey.

I couldn’t help but get drawn into their stories. Once or twice I even caught myself laughing. It was 4:00 a.m. before I realized it. Nearly 18 hours since Josh had left the house. But I couldn’t be distracted forever. “What if—” I began.

The scanner crackled. Someone spoke. “I hear him.” Linda squeezed my hand. Everyone listened now.

Ten minutes passed with no further reports. I could hear the men calling Josh’s name. The sound was urgent, haunting—like a life and death game of blindman’s bluff in the wind.

“No sign of him here!”

“Don’t move, Josh! Let us come to you!”

I leaned forward, perched on the edge of my seat. If there are angels in Alaska, we need them now.

The sun was just peeking over the horizon when the cry came over the scanner: “I’ve got him!”

We rushed to the trailhead. Four men carried Josh out of the woods on a stretcher. His eyes were barely open. But to me he’d never looked better.

Hours later, at the hospital, Josh told me his four-wheeler had fallen through the ice. He’d made it to shore, but with his clothes wet his only hope was to keep moving to generate body heat. The snow and wind were blinding. He couldn’t find his way home.

“But then I heard the voices of the rescuers,” Josh said. “They were all around me. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they would find me. That sound kept me alive. They sounded like...just like angels.”

I thought again of that sound of the men faithfully calling into the night, never a thought of turning back. God had sent angels. By the dozens.

Angels calling on the phone, playing UNO, telling funny stories. They’d come wearing parkas and driving snowmobiles. Rugged, caring, beautiful, cold-loving angels especially made for Alaska.

 

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