5 stories that brought us hope in 2018
Here are the top five stories that brought Alaskans hope in 2018, as chosen by KTVA editors.
The star on the mountain
Much like the star itself, the history and events surrounding it continue to grow as well. In the late 1950s, U.S. Army Capt. Douglas Evert, then the commander for the B-Battery, 4th Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery, had a 15-foot wide star built at Nike Site Summit.
In 1960, the star was expanded from 15 feet in diameter to 117 feet. The new star also included 250 light bulbs and was moved to the side of the mountain, just beneath the Nike Site Summit.
The star survived avalanches, falling rocks and normal weather beatdowns. In 1989, the star was once again reconstructed. This extended from 117 feet in diameter to 300 feet with around 100 more bulbs added.
"It started as someone just wanting to see a star around Christmas time," U.S. Army veteran and director of Friends of Nike Site Summit Greg Durocher said. "Now, it has a lot of significance, it's lit at 9/11, now it's here for the holiday season for a little brightness for Alaska and turned off when the last Iditarod musher arrives in Nome. That's pretty cool, the military is involved and it's become a tradition and engrained. You don't dare break it. The genie is out of the bottle, but it's a very nice genie."
Scott Gross contributed to this report.
The heroic dog who saved a hiker
At first glance, Nanook looks like your typical husky. He’ll walk right up to you for a rub behind the ears and loves play fighting with his brother, a puffball of a Malamute name Argus. However, Nanook, or “Nookie” for short, has made a habit of accompanying hikers on the trailhead that lies just a half mile from his Girdwood home — sometimes, saving their lives.
Earlier this year, Tennessee student Amelia Milling, 21, was hiking the trail when she slipped and fell 600 feet down a snow-covered mountain. Suddenly, Nookie appeared out of nowhere. He took her back to the trail, and a few miles later, when Amelia slipped trying to cross a river, Nanook jumped in and dragged her to shore.
Nookie was dubbed "a modern-day Lassie hero," by Alaska State Trooper Lt. Eric Olsen, one of Milling's human rescuers, but, as it turns out, it wasn't the first time the dog rescued someone in Alaska’s backcountry.
Nookie's owner, Scott Swift, told troopers that Nookie has a sixth sense when it comes to rescuing people in danger. He completes the 24-mile Crow Pass Trail with strangers about 10 times a year. On his collar, Swift engraved the words Crow Pass Guide Dog, so his companions know he is there to make sure they reach the end safely.
Swift said Nookie saved another hiker, a little girl hiking Crow Pass Trail with her family, from the same river crossing where Milling fell. Swife also got a phone call from a woman saying that Nookie saved her friend who was caught in an avalanche a few years ago.
Swift believes there are more stories out there and it’s the reason he started a Facebook page for Nookie. He said he’s already heard all kinds of stories from dozens of people who have hiked with his dog.
After making national headlines, Nookie was made an honorary search and rescue dog for the Alaska Solstice Search Dogs team.
Elizabeth Roman and Heather Hintze contributed to this report.
When firefighter Ben Schultz returned
During a training accident in 2017, firefighter Ben Schultz was severely injured after falling nearly 100 feet down the middle of a ladder.
According to Anchorage police, no one saw him fall and he was found by personnel on the ground behind the truck. In a one-on-one interview with KTVA in 2018, Schultz said he didn't remember the fall.
"They told me that the ladder was extended up to a hundred feet and at a 70-degree angle, and I fell straight, basically down the ladder — kind of probably tumbling and stayed between the rails," Schultz said. "My helmet was shattered. My boots stuck in the top, so that's probably how I broke my ankles. And I'm glad I was wearing my helmet."
"The crew that I was working with heard me fall, heard me kind of hit the ladder on the way down. They came out, saw me, found me unresponsive," Schultz said. "I wasn't breathing, didn't have a pulse, and so they started CPR. They put a breathing tube in me. They noticed that I had a collapsed lung. So they decompressed my chest and reinflated that lung and transferred me to the hospital."
Schultz, recovering from broken bones, internal injuries and a traumatic brain injury, first received acute care at Craig Hospital in Denver. In April 2018, he was then sent to Quality Living Inc., a post-rehabilitation facility in Omaha, Nebraska, which specializes in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
That same month, Schultz returned to Anchorage, conducting his first training drills since the fall.
He worked on setting up a ladder, carried some firefighting equipment and used a sledgehammer. When the formal training was over for the day, firefighters let him burn some energy by smashing out the windows of an old car that’s used for mock extrications.
Schultz said he believed he survived the fall for a purpose, crediting both facilities and God for the progress he made through his recovery.
Elizabeth Roman and Joe Vigil contributed to this report.
When Scott Janssen saved his friend and fellow musher
Musher Scott Janssen's shining Iditarod moment came on the final stretch of his Last Great Race this year. While the 56-year-old "Mushin' Mortician" didn't complete the 2018 Iditarod, he was able to save his good friend and mentor Jim Lanier.
The 77-year-old Lanier was trapped on a chunk of driftwood between the checkpoints of White Mountain and Safety, in an area known as the Blow Hole. The roughly 15-mile-long formation along the Bering Sea coast acts as a wind tunnel, creating a "blizzard that would close highways in the Lower 48," according to Janssen.
It turned out Lanier and his team had been there for quite some time. He had taken a wrong turn toward the ocean, turned back around and got his sled caught on the stump of driftwood at the high-tide mark that was buried in snow.
Janssen was able to muster the strength to move the sled off the stump, but the dogs still wouldn't move. That's when both men's eyes started to cloud over, as their corneas started to freeze. Frostbite and hypothermia were setting in.
Janssen laid down a sleeping bag and wrapped his arms and legs around Lanier, as the two mushers tried to keep warm and told stories for more than five hours.
At some point bikers on fat tires stopped and offered help. Due to frostbite Janssen couldn't dial his wife's number on the satellite phone, so one of the bikers was able to contact Debbie.
Debbie in turn alerted Iditarod officials, and race marshal Mark Nordman called the checkpoint of Safety. That's where Jessie Royer, who had just completed her own Iditarod run, was waiting with a snowmachine. Royer and a friend of the Janssen family drove out and took the two men back to the village of Safety.
Iditarod staff sent trailers out to retrieve the dogs and the sleds, the snowmachines saw the trailers coming about two miles from the site. Once they reached Safety, the men were medevaced to Nome where they refused medical treatment.
Later in the year, state lawmakers honored the longtime Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher for the lifesaving rescue with a legislative citation in recognition of a great contribution. Janssen said his dogs were the ones who alerted him to Lanier's position.
"My dogs were the true heroes," Janssen said. "They are just the best dogs. They all work in unison. I saw a lot of cool stuff on the trail because of them. I'd watch their ears perk up and the whole team looks together. So, I look where they look."
Janssen was once saved on the trail by musher Lance Mackey and said he saw his rescue of Lanier as a way to pay that forward.
John Thompson and Scott Gross contributed to this story.
The moment Kikkan Randall won gold in South Korea
The USA won gold in the cross-country women's team sprint at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, their first-ever medal in the discipline, thanks to Alaskan Kikkan Randall and her teammate Jessica Diggins.
After four months on the road, Randall came back home to Anchorage with not just an Olympic gold medal, but a bronze medal from the World Cup circuit.
Shortly after the win, Randall was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It’s a scary thing to learn you have cancer and I have wondered every day since how this could have possibly happened to me,” Randall wrote in a Facebook post announcing the diagnosis. “But I have promised myself that I will remain positive and active and determined throughout my treatment. I am going to bring as much tenacity, strength, and energy toward this challenge as I have throughout my entire career.”
Two months after the stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis, Kikkan said her new reality was beginning to sink in. From extreme high to extreme low, Kikkan said it was the outpouring of support from complete strangers that took her by surprise.
“Everyone can cheer you on when you’re winning and on a high note, but when everyone comes to support you when you’re on a lower point and you need strength from them? You know, it’s unfortunate to go through something to be able to appreciate that, but it’s been incredible," she said.
CNN, Chris Klint and Daybreak Staff contributed to this story.
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