FAIRBANKS — A 22-year-old Healy man who claims another man poisoned him, stole all his cold-weather gear and left him to freeze to death was rescued by Alaska State Troopers on Saturday night after trying to walk almost 50 miles out of the wilderness.
The details behind his story are unclear, but Andrew Costales may lose three toes on his left foot after walking what he estimated was 35 miles in temperatures of 20 to 30 degrees below zero on Thursday and Friday.
Troopers found Costales, suffering from frostbite and hypothermia, late Saturday night at an unheated cabin on Healy Creek, about 10 miles east of Healy, a few hours after he hit the SOS button on his Spot Tracker beacon.
“That Spot Tracker saved his life, there’s not a doubt in my mind,” said Eric Jeffords, one of the two Alaska State Troopers who found Costales. “I don’t think he would have made it until morning.”
Costales had only a lightweight sleeping bag to keep him warm, and his feet were frozen. He wore a pair of light leather boots.
“There was a wood stove there, but he had already used up the wood on his way out and never replaced it for the guy who owned the cabin,” Jeffords said. “When he came back, there was no wood and he was too lamed up to get more wood. Realistically, he probably wouldn’t have made it through the night.”
As for his story about being poisoned and robbed, troopers couldn’t speculate because Costales had not filed a report.
“Until he reports it to us, there’s nothing we can do,” troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
Costales, who moved to Alaska a little more than a year ago, was medevaced to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, where he was listed in satisfactory condition Monday. Doctors don’t know yet whether he will lose any toes, Costales said in a phone interview.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” he said.
As to whether he was near death when troopers found him, Costales didn’t argue.
“I was on my way,” he said. “I was getting ready to go to sleep.”
Costales said he was prospecting for gold near the Wood River, living out of an old, abandoned mining camp, when he was robbed of all his cold-weather gear. In an interview with the News-Miner, Costales was vague about what happened, but said he knows who did it and plans to file a report with troopers soon.
“He took most of my food and dropped poison in my syrup,” Costales said of the alleged thief. “I already know who it is. I hope to resolve this pretty soon.”
This isn’t the first time troopers have dealt with Costales, who Jeffords described as “kind of a unique guy.” This is the second winter Costales has spent camping and prospecting along the Wood River. Troopers were asked to check on him twice last winter by people in Healy who knew him and were worried that he wasn’t prepared.
“He chased us off twice when we went out to check on him,” Jeffords said. “He said he didn’t want anything to do with people and he wanted to be left alone.
“He just kind of drifts around out there,” the trooper said. “Usually, he ends up using other peoples’ cabins.”
According to a trooper report, Costales pressed the help button on his Spot Personal Tracker, a GPS satellite device that can send messages to friends, family or emergency services, at 5:36 p.m. Saturday. The beacon indicated Costales was in the Healy Creek drainage but that it wasn’t a life-threatening situation, just that he needed help.
“I started hitting the assist button to get somebody out there that was non-emergency, but nobody showed up,” Costales said.
Three hours later, at 8:40 p.m., Costales hit the SOS/911 button, which sent an emergency message to troopers with his GPS coordinates. Because of the SOS beacon and the 30-below temperature, troopers immediately initiated a search by snowmachine.
Jeffords and fellow Cantwell trooper Jim Ellison found Costales at the cabin. They loaded him on a trailer behind the snowmachine and transported him back to the road. They arrived around midnight and Costales was whisked away by medics from the Tri-Valley Volunteer Fire Department and then medevaced to Fairbanks.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.