Man survives at -30C thanks to peanut butter

Tyson Steele: His hut could only be reached by helicopter or a plane landing on ice. © Alaska State Troopers

It was a real-life nightmare: a man’s hut in the Alaskan wilderness burnt down, and all his possessions were destroyed. But now, he has been rescued – after three weeks in the freezing snow.

What’s happening

Tyson Steele woke in the middle of the night to find melted plastic dripping from the ceiling of his hut, in the wilds of Alaska. The fire, caused by a spark from the stove, spread with unimaginable speed. Steele was left alone, without any way of contacting the outside world.

Find out more

For two days, he lived in a snow cave. Then he set about building himself a shelter around the stove from bits of wood and tarpaulin. In the ruins of his store room, he found enough food (including jars of beans and peanut butter) to keep him going for a month.

The stove provided just enough warmth to stop him from freezing. “I stamped a big ‘SOS’ in the snow and I used some ashes from the fireplace to make it black,” he says. “I had to keep doing that because it would snow and I would have to redo it. I figured that would be my best signal.” Finally, last week, it was spotted by Alaskan state troopers flying overhead.

Is survival chiefly about luck or courage?

Some say…

Some say that Tyson Steele owes his life to luck. He was lucky that enough food survived the fire to keep him from starvation, and that he had enough materials to make a shelter. He was lucky, too, that his rescuers found him. If the weather had been any worse, their helicopter might not have been able to take off.

Others think…

Others argue that he would not have survived without the courage that kept him going. Steele could easily have given up and frozen to death. He found himself in a desperate situation – but forced himself to find a way out.

You Decide

  1. Would it be harder to survive the Alaskan wilderness or Africa’s Sahara Desert in Africa?


  1. Imagine that you are Tyson Steele on the third day after the fire. Write a one-page diary entry describing what you have done and how you are feeling.

Some People Say...

“The secret of survival is a defective imagination.”

John Banville, Irish writer

What do you think?

Word Watch

The largest state in the USA.
An apparatus for cooking or heating that works by burning fuel or using electricity.
Strong waterproof material.
The letters SOS have been used as a code for emergency since 1905. It’s a Morse code sequence, deliberately introduced by the German government. Translated to Morse code, SOS looks like: “. . . – – – . . .” Three dots, three dashes, three dots. Contrary to popular belief, it does not stand for Save Our Souls. It doesn’t stand for anything!
State troopers
Police for the state in which they are based.


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