A New York man rescued after a week in the Alaska wilderness in 2016 is now blaming the whole affair on his sat phone and suing Globalstar, the company that runs the satellite service, the New York Post reports.
Thirty-two-year-old, St. John’s University grad Vladimir Yakushin suggested to Post reporter Kathianne Boniello that the adventure almost drove him to suicide.
When an Alaska State Trooper came to rescue Yakushin – a service provided free by the state – she wrote that he “sobbed and pointed to his rifle and knife.
“There’s a rifle; please unload it. There’s a knife; please take it away,’ he told the trooper.”
“Busted phone leaves man in Alaskan nightmare — fending for life in Last Frontier,” the Post headlined the Saturday story. The story did not say what was wrong with the Globalstar GSP 1700 phone other than that it didn’t work when Yakushin tried to call for help an hour into his Alaska sojourn.
The Yakushin rescue made front page news in the state after he talked to an Anchorage Daily News reporter and supplied the newspaper photographs of his adventure.
Some in Alaska might be old enough to remember when people who struggled in the 49th state’s wilderness rescued themselves and told no one.
The Globalstar network with its low-altitude, mid-planet-based satellite system has long had a reputation for sometimes spotty service in Alaska.
Dirk Nickisch and Danielle Tirrell at Coyote Air Service in the tiny, Arctic community of Coldfoot go so far as to recommend backpackers and hunters headed into the Brooks Range avoid them and go with phones from Iridium, another satellite phone company.
“Globalstar is not designed to work everywhere,” Jon Hunt warned in a 2016 story in the winter issue of “Hunt Alaska” magazine. But he also described the phone as “a great option” that he found “occasionally frustrating. None-the-less, I understand the limitations of the product:
- “Globalstar is not reliable north of Fairbanks.
- “Globalstar needs a clear view to the South.
- “Globalstar has more times each where calls are dropped or a satellite cannot be obtained.”
Yakushin’s adventure began near Lake Minchumina west of Fairbanks on the north side of the Alaska Range. The towering peaks of those mountains can interfere with the signal of satellites circling the globe at low elevations to the south.
That is the “clear view to the South” issue as Hunt described it.
An Anchorage air taxi dropped Yakushin the wilderness less than 100 miles almost due east of where the late, 24-year-old Chris McCandless would become famous for the few months he spent in an abandoned bus along the Stampede Trail.
Yakushin planned a better financed, somewhat better thought out adventure than McCandless’s fatal 1992 trek.
McCandless squatted in the bus until he died of starvation only to rise in infamy after Outside magazine writer John Krakauer concocted a story about the Alaska adventure of the delusional young man who called himself “Alexander Supertramp.” Krakauer later turned the story into a best-selling book titled “Into the Wild.”
The novel had long been a best seller before Yakushin started plotting his Alaska escapade.
Unlike McCandless, Yakushin paid $9,400 to buy a 5.5-acre parcel of land in a remote, Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR) subdivision at Chleca Lake near the headwaters of the North Fork Kuskokwim River.
He stayed in the area for only a matter of days.
Back in the Lower 48 now, Yakushin told The Post that he was hoping to recreate an idyllic childhood on his grandparents’ farm before “getting lost in an Alaskan nightmare.”
He flew into Chleca Lake on June 23 with $10,000 in supplies and almost immediately decided he’d make a mistake if the Post story is to be believed.
“Frustrated and alone in the woods, Yakushin knew he had to leave. So within an hour of landing at his new property, he fired up his GSP 1700 phone,” the newspaper reported.
“Yakushin was surprised that his property was spongy, wet tundra, not farmland like his grandparents’ place near Siberia,” he told an ADN reporter shortly after his 2016 rescue. “The trees were black spruce, too spindly for building a cabin. Right off, it rained. He had no tent. He intended to make a temporary camp with tarps.”
One of several photographs Yakushin supplied the ADN at the time and photos still posted on his Facebook page contradict at least part of that story. The photos show a partially completed log cabin that another would-be Chleca resident had built and given Yakushin permission to use.
The cabin sits on buildable soils in an opening in the woods, and though built of small logs, the logs are clearly of adequate size to build a traditional Alaska trapper’s cabin.
Yakushin told the ADN he spent a year researching the area only to arrive and find the area nothing like he had expected.
He’s sticking to that story still, though now telling the Post he spent 18 months – six months more than a year – prepping for his journey into the wild.
The Post story doesn’t say why he failed to make arrangements with the air taxi that flew him to Chleca Lake to come back and check on him, a common practice in wild Alaska.
The ADN story says only that “he hadn’t asked anyone to check on him.” It doesn’t say why. Yakushin – who the Post describes as a Brooklyn man but whose Facebook page reports to be living in Chapel Hill, N.C. – did not respond to a Facebook message.
Neither the ADN nor the Post story explain why he spent so little time at Chleca before deciding to attempt a more than 100-mile float down the North Fork to McGrath. It is also unclear how he arrived at that decision.
The Post story says it took Yakushin two days just to get to the river, although north Chleca Lake – where Yakushin had his property – is only about a mile away.
The ADN story reported Yakushin spent “maybe a couple of days” at the lake before he headed “through thick brush to the North Fork Kuskokwim River. In the trek, his fishing pole tumbled out and was lost.”
The Post story describes the same terrain as “spongy muck.”
The ADN description would be more characteristic of the area, but one could probably find “spongy muck” if he or she went looking for it.
“Yakushin spent a night at his encampment, knowing he couldn’t paddle upriver or walk the impassable terrain to Lake Minchumina,” the Post reported.
There is a small community on Lake Minchumina about 30 miles to the northeast of Chleca. Hiking there would have been difficult, but the terrain is not impassable.
The overland journey would have been easier than trying to float to McGrath as Yakushin was trying to when spotted by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game pilot who notified the trooper that came to the rescue on June 29.
He had been in the wild only six days.
“I was angry that the phone was not working,” he told the Post. “I was just so frustrated, thinking, ‘I have to get out of here, I have to keep going, and the only way is this river.’
“I started going crazy on this river. It just brings me back to tears, how . . . relieved I was and how happy I was that it’s hopefully going to come to an end.”
The Post claimed that Yakushin’s constant paddling on the river made his hands swell to “twice their normal size,” and that he suffered “a painful cyst in his rear from days of paddling, which made it tough to walk or sit.”
Despite the beating he took at the hands of the wilderness, he contends it wasn’t his fault.
“I was not stupid, like I’m sitting in Brooklyn on my couch watching TV and tomorrow I’m going there in my T-shirt and book bag,” he told the Post.
“I put so much time and effort and research [in],” he said. “If the phone would work, we would not be having this conversation. I would be a happy guy living in Alaska.”
Correction: An early version of this story had the direction from Fairbanks to Lake Minchumina wrong.