Whether you’re a seasoned camper or someone who’s never been in a tent in their life, the wilderness is dangerous just the same. People with the experience of cooking their own food and building shelter may be better off than those who don’t know the first thing about the outdoors, but nature is still unpredictable. Even the most talented woodsmen can experience tough times.
That’s why when three-year-old Casey Hathaway disappeared into the thick North Carolina woods, his parents were in hysterics. A massive team of volunteers quickly assembled to search for the missing toddler, but what happened over the next 48 hours left the whole town questioning everything they knew to be true.
Casey Hathaway was like any three-year-old child. Full of energy and enthusiasm, and he was lucky enough to live in Craven County, North Carolina, where much of his extended family also resided. Although the area was scenic, it had its dangers.
It was a Tuesday afternoon when the Hathaway family all gathered at Casey’s great-grandmother’s house for a party. Casey and a few of his relatives went out to the backyard to play while the food was prepared. But, when the kids returned, something was wrong.
Casey was missing! The rest of the kids stormed into the house, but there was no sign of the Hathaway’s three-year-old anywhere. Casey’s mother, Britanny, ran out to the yard and started calling his name. No one responded.
Soon, she turned her head in horror to the woods just outside the yard. Had her son wandered out into there? She hoped he would know better, but he was so young. Britanny could only think of one thing to do.
After she gathered some of the other adults, they took off into the woods to search for the young boy. Casey’s great-grandmother called the Craven County police while they were gone. The dispatcher immediately contacted police from the surrounding areas.
Missing Child posters went up everywhere. Craven Country was a heavily wooded area full of dangerous terrain, and officials knew if the boy wasn’t found quickly, there would be little chance he’d survive. And so, the massive search operation began.
But even those adept to the wilderness wouldn’t go embarking on an outdoor mission without seriously thinking things through. The weather could change in an instant, and there was always the potential to run into dangerous animals.
Chip Hughes was the Craven County Sheriff, and he was in charge of organizing the outfit and ensuring every bit of land was scoured for any signs possible. He managed to gather volunteers from other local departments, the FBI, and even the Marine Corps.
The hunt began, but almost immediately, the teams were confronted with rough weather conditions. Rain and low temperatures prevented everyone was traversing the nearly 1,000-acre area of land Casey could be. After several hours on the first day, the search was called off.
Now, Casey’s family was in hysterics. The boy was three years old, there’s no way, they knew, that he could survive even one night alone in the dense brush. Once word got out the boy wasn’t found after day one, even more people jumped onto the rescue effort.
More than 600 people were determined to find little Casey and get him home to his distraught family in (hopefully) one piece. Once briefed about the boy’s physical appearance, the teams marched back into the brush with one goal in mind.
Not only were local news outlets covering the story, but churches had their parishioners gathering to say prayers for the boy. Any positive energy they could send, they did. Well, on Thursday evening, that energy broke through.
Someone phoned the authorities saying they thought they heard the faint voice of a child in the woods behind their home. The forest was too thick for them to look alone, so they called officials who they knew had the proper tools.
An EMS Captain named Shane Grier led the charge into the woods behind the home. A father himself, he was emotionally invested in the search. With his flashlight in hand, he broke through sticks and twigs.
And there was Casey, the small 25-pound child, caught in the thorns with a look of terror in his eyes. The EMS captain nearly broke out in tears when he saw him. Once out of the woods, the boy was rushed to the hospital.
Britanny and Chris Hathaway immediately took to the news to give the world the miraculous update. Incredibly, even though Casey spent two night in the wilderness, he was said to be in good health by doctors.
Sheriff Chip Hughes was elated at the fact they found Casey and so proud of the hard work every volunteer put in to the effort. Once Casey started feeling better, he spoke about his experience, and what he said shocked everyone.
According to the three year old, he spent most of his time in the woods with a bear! Apparently the bear kept him company during his terrifying ordeal. However, there were no signs of a bear near Casey when he was found.
There was no way to prove Casey’s story correct or incorrect, so people just had to go with it. Black bears were common around the area, but would one have really buddied up with a toddler for two whole days?
Casey returned to his old self rather quickly, and Britanny and Chris didn’t push for him to say anything else. In a way, they believed his story. After all, he was far from the first person to get a real helping hand from an animal.
Amelia Milling, left, may be deaf, but she’s always up for a challenge. Indeed, the Tennessee native attended the Rochester Institute of Technology in Upstate New York, and constantly pushed herself to do the extreme—sometimes, the very extreme.
John Garay / Facebook
In the summer of 2017, for instance, Amelia spent time hiking through and camping in the gorgeous national parks offered out west—nothing too serious, however. In 2018, though, she planned to outdo herself.
On June 19, 2018, Amelia packed her bags—including an emergency tracker device her mother insisted she bring—and headed to Chugach State Park, right, an expanse of rocky mountain and serene rivers about 30 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska.
There, she hiked on her own along winding mountain paths, which, she noted, taxed her far more than she’d expected. As a Southerner, she hadn’t considered there’d still be snow in June. So she changed her plans.
On the second day of her trip, she descended into the Eagle River Valley. Just four miles into the hike, her walking sticks snapped in two. She slid for 300 feet, smashed into a boulder, then fell another 400 feet down a snowy, gradual slope.
The 21-year-old ended up bleeding and broken, looking up at the mountains—a very dramatic moment. Facing death, the only thing she could think of was that her dream vacation was over. Then she saw something terrifying.
A wolf “appeared out of no where,” and watched her in her state of weakness. Hardly able to stand—and with no one around—she stood no chance against a wolf. But then, she noticed something around the animal’s neck that gave her relief.
What she thought was a wolf wore a bone tag that read “Crow Pass Guide,” along with an address. It was then she knew this was no wolf, but a white husky named Nanook. He’d come to rescue her.
Nanook “gave me the motivation to get up and walk,” Amelia said. So she did just that. With the white husky at her side, she walked back to the trail. When night fell, she set up a tent and invited Nanook inside. The dog declined.
But the dog didn’t go anywhere. “I realized he really was sticking with me when he greeted me in the morning when I unzipped my tent,” Amelia said. “He had stayed the entire night next to me.” He offered more help, too.
Along the trail, Amelia and Nanook encountered the Eagle River crossing: a roiling, swirling, and freezing point of the river. Amelia tried twice to cross it. On the second time, she slipped, and the water pulled her under.
After 15 minutes caught in the swell, Amelia bolted back toward the shore. Nanook had grabbed her backpack and pulled her to safety. Afraid of hypothermia, Amelia curled up into her sleeping bag. There, Nanook kept licking her face.
In fact, he licked her face until she remembered the emergency tracker her mother made her take on the hike. When prompted by Nanook, she activated it, sending alerts to Alaska State Troopers.
Several hours later, trained rescue workers descended on her location in a helicopter before scooping the miserable Amelia and her canine companion up. Rescuers brought Amelia to an Anchorage hospital.
Alaska State Troopers / Facebook
When Amelia recounted her story, the troopers were floored. “Nookie was nothing short of a modern-day Lassie hero,” one rescuer, Alaska State Trooper Lt. Eric Olsen, said. Inspired by the pooch, Lieutenant Olsen personally brought the dog home.
There, the trooper met Scott Swift, Nanook’s owner, left. When he heard what his dog had been up to the past 24 hours? “I was definitely pretty floored,” he said. “It sends chills up my spine when I think about it. I certainly didn’t train him to do anything like this.”
Scott continued, “It’s a pretty powerful feeling that this dog had this instinctual ability to want to go help people.” The state of Alaska recognized that, too, and gave Nanook a special honor for his work…
For his heroics, Nanook was made an honorary Alaska State Trooper! The “free spirit” dog would no doubt look good in the uniform. Amelia couldn’t have been happier for her savior.
Amelia recovered in Anchorage and actually continued the dream vacation she once thought would end violently. She did, however, take plenty of time away from hiking to spoil Nanook with lots and lots of treats!
Amelia was extremely lucky to have Nanook come to her rescue. In a wild region like the Alaskan wilderness, having a loyal companion to get you through can be a critical factor for survival. Granted, there is one northern environment that is even more deadly…
Alaskan Wildnerness League
That would be Siberia. Four-year-old Karina Chikitova lived in a remote village in the far east region called The Sakha Republic. There tucked inside the unforgiving landscape, she shared a small home with her father, mother, grandmother, and her dog, Naida.
Like most kids her age, Karina was energized by a youthful curiosity, that urge to explore and know and understand. Which was why, in July 2014, she followed her father, Rodion, on an expedition into a part of the Siberian wilderness also known as the taiga.
Now this decision was problematic for a few different reasons. The first reason being that the taiga is very much an animal kingdom, dominated by bears, tigers, and wolves with really sharp teeth and an appetite for people.
The second problem with Karina’s decision was that she had not told her grandmother — the person charged with watching her at the time — that she would be following her dad into the bear-infested wilderness.
In fact, she hadn’t even told her dad that she would be following him. So literally no one on the planet knew that this four-year-old girl was diving headstrong into the most dangerous territory on the planet. No person, at least.
Karina did have a companion at her side: Naida, the family dog. That, evidently, was all the comfort the little girl needed, but it was little comfort to her mother, Talina, when she realized her little girl and the dog were both missing.
At first, Talina figured her youngster and the dog followed Rodion to his native village, but Siberia wasn’t exactly flooded with quality LTE, so she couldn’t pull out a cellphone and check. Instead, she waited to hear from her husband.
In the meantime, Karina, followed her father until she somehow managed to lose his trail. Her dad disappeared from view leaving her very much stranded in Siberia with Naida. And the bears. And the wolves.
It took four days of waiting for mother Talina to learn that, no, her daughter was not with her husband in his home village. No stranger to Siberia, she understood this to be a very bad thing, so she alerted authorities.
Radio Free Europe
They deployed a 100-person rescue team to head out into Siberian wilds to find her. The team carried rifles to fend off bears (yeah, there were that many bears in the woods).
Helicopters sliced the sky and rescue workers on foot combed through the trees and tall grass, but their search proved fruitless: Karina was nowhere to be seen. But then, nine days after she went missing, authorities found a clue.
More specifically, a clue walked right up to the authorities and introduced herself. Naida returned to her home — but Karina was not with her! What should’ve been a hopeful moment only seemed to confirm Talina’s worst thoughts.
“If she was to hug her puppy,” Talina said, “we thought, ‘this would have given her a chance to…survive.’ So when her dog came back we thought ‘that’s it.’ Even if she was alive — and chances were slim — now she would have definitely have lost all hope.”
But Naida hadn’t just wandered absentmindedly home. She seemed eager to show the desperate family and the rescue crew something important. The dog headed the group of rescuers and led them into the wilderness…
The dog led authorities to a spot in the wilderness, but none of them saw Karina there. Naida, it seemed, couldn’t find the exact area where she’d left the little girl! Authorities wondered if they were anywhere near her at all.
But three days later — 12 days after Karina first went missing — rescue workers spotted a child-sized footprint on a river bed beside a dog’s paw print. The footprint revealed Karina was barefoot, a crucial detail for investigators.
This told rescue workers that Karina likely was not in the woods. Too many sharp sticks there would’ve been a nightmare on her feet. This narrowed their search down considerably, and the following morning, they executed that new search plan.
And sure enough, just 20 meters from where they started searching, one rescue worker noticed a peculiar lump tucked away in a patch of tall grass. The whole crew rushed over.
They found her nestled in the grass. She was starving, thirsty, exhausted, and covered in mosquito bites, but nevertheless alive. They brought her tea before carrying her to a car and whisking her away to the nearest hospital.
The child spent some time in the hospital, but physicians determined there wouldn’t be any lasting damage. A psychologist examined her mental state and found, shockingly, her mind was in a good place. Talk about mental fortitude.
So how did a four-year-old girl survive in the Siberian wilderness? The little girl told reporters and her family that she survived off wild berries and river water.
Then, of course, there was Naida, the lovable canine that gave her warmth at night and companionship in the daytime. The two reunited for the first time back at home when the hospital released Karina. The meeting did not go as expected.
When Karina first saw her dog, she looked her in the eyes and chided, “why did you leave me?” Those three days of solitude must’ve really affected the little girl. But eventually, she came to understand what the dog did for her.
“It was Naida who rescued me,” Karina said sometime later. “I was really, really scared. But when we were going to sleep I hugged her, and together we were warm.”
Karina’s story gripped everyone watching, and locals even erected a statue of the girl and her pooch to celebrate their strength and will to survive. Not bad for a four-year-old and her dog, huh?
In the end, Karina made a full recovery, and by 2018, attended a ballet boarding school 350 miles away from the village she’d wandered away from all those years ago. Her teachers believed she had the talent to compete in Russia’s competitive ballet scene.
“When she just started her classes, Karina was very reserved,” a boarding school leader said. “She has changed so much and became a lot more open, sociable, friendly and independent. She made many friends who love her lots.”
But even as she danced like an expert and earned friends with her exuberant personality, she would never forget the friend that made it all possible: Naida, the loyal canine.