Nunam Iqua

Location of village of Nunam Iqua near where the Yukon River empties into the Bering Sea.

The four children who were found alive in Alaska 23 hours after they went missing in a blizzard during a snowmachine ride were huddled together in a hole in the snow, the three older ones protecting the youngest, a 2-year-old boy.

They had left their tiny village of Nunam Iqua on Sunday, hopping on a snowmobile for what was supposed to be a quick trip to the dump just outside the hamlet about 530 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

But somehow they steered themselves 18 miles south, public radio station KYUK reported.

Miraculously they were found 24 hours later, all alive, as Alaska State Troopers said in a statement.

Rescuer Bryan Simon told KYUK he spotted something amiss in the white landscape. Christopher Johnson, age 14; Frank Johnson, 8; Ethan Camille, 7, and Trey Camille, 2, were curled around each other in a hole in the snow, without shelter.

“It didn’t look normal, it didn’t look like anything,” Simon said of the glitch he noted in the blinding snowscape.

Moving closer, he saw movement, then a clump of children.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said.

“The infant was in there,” Simon told KYUK. “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.”

“They were protecting the baby,” Simon’s teammate Herschel Sundown said.

While they waited for the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to arrive, Simon and Sundown, and their two other teammates, helped gauge their level of frostbite and hypothermia, they said. The children were airlifted to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, where they were treated for severe hypothermia.

Both their survival while exposed to the elements for so long, and their discovery in a place that other searchers had passed through without seeing them, were miraculous, rescuers said.

“In all honesty, I don’t know how they survived,” Sundown told KYUK. “The will to survive in these boys is amazing. I have never seen anything like that.”

“It immediately brought me to tears,” Alphonso Thomas, father of Trey, told KTUU-TV. “I never would have thought that he would make it. Being two and with weather like that, people usually don’t make it ... tough kids, all of them.”