4 children found alive in remote part of Alaska after being stranded by blizzard for 27 hours

Lauren Fox
The remote village of Nunam Iqua is located about 160 miles northwest of Bethel. (AccuWeather)

Four children between the ages of 2 and 14 were found alive, but suffering from severe hypothermia, on Monday after becoming lost in a blizzard for 27 hours near Nunam Iqua, Alaska, a remote community with a population of less than 200, according to the 2010 census.

Alaska State Troopers have identified the children as 14-year-old Christopher Johnson, 8-year-old Frank Johnson, 7-year-old Ethan Camille, and 2-year-old Trey Camille. KTUU-TV reported that when the children were found they were "cold, hungry and tired."

All four children were taken to Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHS) in Bethel, about 160 miles to the south and east, to be treated. By Thursday, two of the children were released and one remains in YKHS. Another child was taken to Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) in Anchorage, The Washington Post reported.

According to Karen Camille, the mother of three of the children and sister of the fourth child, the boys are expected to make a full recovery.

"I just asked how they're doing, and they said they're good and they just want me to go to them," Camille told Alaska Public Media.

Shirley Young, a spokesperson for ANMC in Anchorage, confirmed to Alaska Public Media the 7-year-old was receiving treatment at the center, and said his conditions are "serious but stable."

Search team members, which included Alaska State Troopers, U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard and volunteer groups, rode snowmobiles as they combed the area for the boys amid difficult conditions due to heavy snow and low visibility.

Emmonak Search and Rescue, one of the volunteer groups involved in the rescue efforts, said in a Tuesday Facebook post that the children were found.

"Last night, throughout the night and all day the state of Alaska was so worried for the 4 children from Nunam, with prayers from everyone and the searchers from the villages they were found safe," the post read.

Herschel Sundown, a member of one of the volunteer search teams and formerly a health aide, assessed the childrens' conditions on the scene, according to Alaska Public Media. One boy was found wearing soaked sweatpants and another did not have gloves on, he said.

The children had survived by digging a foot-deep and three-foot-wide hole in the snow. The older children huddled together around to 2-year-old to keep him warm, Alaska Public Media reported.

"The infant was in there," Bryan Simon, another volunteer rescuer, told Alaska Public Media. "And the boy laid over the infant, and on his left side, a little older boy covering the draft. And the 7-year-old was laying right above them like he was blocking the wind."

Members of the search team gave the boys their parkas, draped a tarp over top and joined their huddle to try and keep them warm while waiting for a rescue helicopter to arrive and take them to the hospital. Rescuers reportedly heard the helicopter within 15 minutes.

Members of the Alaska State Troopers along with rescuers from the U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard, and volunteer groups combed the snow-covered terrain for the missing children. (Facebook / Alaska State Troopers)

The children were reported missing at around 6:45 p.m. on Sunday night after they left to go on a snowmobile ride. They were found at 4:25 p.m. on Monday about 18 miles south of Nunam Iqua.

Camille spoke to KTUU-TV, and told the TV station that the search went on until 2 a.m. on Monday, and then continued again in the morning around dawn.

Alaska State Troopers said the conditions of the blizzard made the search difficult, according to The Associated Press.

"And it's just the angle that we came in that we were able to spot them," Sundown told Alaska Public Media. "We didn't think we would find them, but we did."

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According to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Paul Walker, the temperature on Sunday night was in the single digits, staying around 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit in Nome, Alaska, which is about 137 miles north of Nunum Iqua and the closest weather observation station to the remote community.

Walker said winds were blowing at around 25-30 mph and it was snowing, which decreased visibility and could have disoriented the children. A winter weather warning had been in effect in the area.

Overnight, the AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature plunged as low as minus 20 to minus 30 F. In the morning, Walker said the RealFeel® would have been around minus 15 F.

Walker called their survival "amazing."

"I don't know the odds of them surviving that," he said, "but they were pretty lucky."

Alphonso Thomas, the father of 2-year-old Trey, told KTUU-TV that hearing the news of what had happened "immediately brought him to tears."

"I never would have thought that he would make it," he said. "Being 2 and with weather like that, people usually don't make it ... tough kids, all of them."

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