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Dog Helps Alaska Woman Survive 3 Nights in Cold

Dan Joling
Published: December 13, 2013
Denali National Park

Mike Powell/Getty Images

Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park in Alaska is pictured. A woman spent nearly three nights stranded near the national park before being rescued Wednesday.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A woman survived nearly three nights in interior Alaska cold by burning her snowmobile and huddling with her small dog, Alaska State Troopers said Thursday.

Vivian Mayo, 57, of Cantwell, was found at about 1 a.m. Wednesday, taking shelter under the burned-out hulk of her snowmobile and sharing body heat with Elvis, a small, brown dog of unknown breed. She was severely hypothermic and in need of immediate medical attention, troopers said.

Lows in the area where she was found were in the teens and 20s for the three nights she was stranded, weather.com senior meteorologist Jon Erdman said.

(MORE: Good News for Arctic Sea Ice in 2013 ... Or Is It?)

Megan Peters, spokeswoman for the troopers, said the dog likely helped Mayo preserve her body heat.

"It really did help save her life," Peters said. "Elvis is a little hero."

Mayo's ordeal began over the weekend.

She and her husband, Scott Mayo, 61, traveled on snowmobiles to a cabin near Mile 105 of Denali Highway, a mostly gravel east-west road east of Denali National Park and Preserve. The highway connects two paved highways but is not maintained during winter months and is not open to cars and trucks.

Scott Mayo departed the cabin by snowmobile Saturday to check on a trap line that started 4 to 5 miles away, Peters said.

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He had not returned by Sunday. The Mayos were not due back to Cantwell, a community at the west side of the Denali Highway, until Tuesday night, and Vivian Mayo made the decision to return to Cantwell and seek help for her husband.

She did not get far. Her snowmobile broke down Sunday about a mile from the cabin.

The Mayos had told family members they would be back by 7 p.m. Tuesday, and if they weren't back by 10 p.m. Tuesday, to alert authorities.

Family members called troopers Tuesday night. Alaska Wildlife Trooper James Ellison and volunteer rescuers headed out and found Vivian Mayo in about three hours, Peters said. Mayo was starting her third night in the frigid temperatures, which dipped as low as minus 20 degrees.

Her mobility was limited, Peters said, and she could not simply walk the mile back to the cabin. The burned-out snowmobile had been tipped over and Mayo was using the shell for shelter, cuddled with Elvis, Peters said. She did not know how Mayo ignited the snowmobile.

(MORE: These Are the Coldest Places on Earth)

Mayo at one point told rescuers that she saw wolves approaching but troopers found no tracks or other indication of the predators.

Ellison activated a personal locator beacon to alert the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage and took Mayo and Elvis back to the cabin. The searchers turned their focus to finding Scott Mayo.

Ellison at 2:45 a.m. reported finding what he believed was Scott Mayo's trail. He gave trail coordinates to the rescue center, which responded with a C-130 airplane and a Pave Hawk helicopter.

Searchers in the airplane spotted Scott Mayo at 5:13 a.m., just 2 to 3 miles from the cabin, Peters said. Tracks from his snowmobile indicated he had traveled much farther. He had built a small warming fire and was reported in good condition despite starting his fourth night in the cold.

The Pave Hawk landed and took Mayo back to the cabin before the Mayos were flown by helicopter to Anchorage.

Both Vivian and Scott Mayo had been released from a hospital by Thursday afternoon, Peters said. Calls to their home Thursday went unanswered.

MORE: Alaska's Glaciers, Before and After

Muir Glacier and Inlet (1895)

Muir Glacier and Inlet (1895)

In the photo above, the west shoreline of Muir Inlet in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is shown as it appeared in 1895. Notice the lack of vegetation on the slopes of the mountains, and the glacier that stands more than 300 feet high. See the glacier as it looked in 2005 on the next page. (USGS/Bruce Molnia)

  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (1895)
  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (2005)
  • Plateau Glacier (1961)
  • Plateau Glacier (2003)
  • Bear Glacier (1920s)
  • Bear Glacier (2005)
  • Northwestern Glacier (1920s-1940s)
  • Northwestern Glacier (2005)
  • Northwestern Glacier (1909)
  • Northwestern Glacier (2004)
  • Pedersen Glacier (1920s-1940s)
  • Pedersen Glacier (2005)
  • Pedersen Glacier (1909)
  • Pedersen Glacier (2005)
  • Reid Glacier (1899)
  • Reid Glacier (2003)
  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (1890)
  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (2005)
  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (1896)
  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (2005)
  • Yale Glacier (1937)
  • Yale Glacier (2006)
  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (1880s-1890s)
  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (2005)
  • Muir Glacier (1941)
  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (1950)
  • Muir Glacier and Inlet (2004)
  • Carroll Glacier (1906)
  • Carroll Glacier (2004)
  • Muir Inlet (1976)
  • Muir Inlet (2003)
  • McCarty Glacier (1909)
  • McCarty Glacier (2004)
  • McCarty Glacier (1909)
  • McCarty Glacier (2004)
  • Muir and Adams Glaciers (1899)
  • Muir and Adams Glaciers (2003)
  • Yalik Glacier (1909)
  • Yalik Glacier (2004)
  • Denali National Park (1919)
  • Denali National Park (2004)
  • Northwestern Glacier (1920s-1940s)
  • Northwestern Glacier (2005)
  • Toboggan Glacier (1905)
  • Toboggan Glacier (2008)
  • Muir Inlet (1895)
  • Muir Inlet (2005)

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