GRAND LEDGE, Mich. — A Michigan hunter who spent a harrowing week stranded in the Alaskan wilderness with no food, shelter or warm clothes has attributed his survival to luck, guile and faith.
Adrian Knopps was stranded for seven days in September after his hunting partner, Garrett Hagen, drowned while boarding their boat.
Knopps became sleep-deprived, hallucinated and slipped into hypothermia. Resigned that he would die, the 51-year-old electrician from Grand Ledge carved a farewell message on his rifle and collapsed.
That’s when a Coast Guard helicopter came to his rescue.
“It probably was the most wonderful sound I ever heard,” he told The Detroit News.
Knopps, who shared a river delta with bears and wolves, was pelted by rain the entire time, including a storm that packed 70-mph winds. Because of the wet conditions, he rarely sat or lay down, sleeping three hours all week. During high tide, Knopps clutched the upright roots of an overturned tree while surrounded by a mile of water in all directions.
“You try to live one moment at a time and do what you have to,” he said.
A Coast Guard official said it was remarkable that Knopps made it out alive.
“It’s a testament to the human will to live,” said Cmdr. Pete Melnick, operations officer at the Coast Guard Air Station in Sitka.
Knopps, a longtime hunter who grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, said he never felt alone, talking aloud to God the whole time.
He also thought about his wife, two grown sons and granddaughter.
Using a hunting knife, he carved a message on the stock and butt of his rifle. It read: “A. Knopps stuck on river tidal flat for 5 days. Cold wet no food.”
He hung the rifle on the branch of another toppled tree. If he died, Knopps hoped it would be found by a hunter who would pass it along to his family.
Knopps still has nerve damage that is expected to last for months. He can’t walk very far without resting.
But that hasn’t stopped him from returning to the wilderness. Two months after his rescue, he went on an annual hunting trip with his brother and brother-in-law.
“I love hunting. I love the woods,” he said. “I can’t just stop doing the things I really like in life.”