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Cuddling with dog helps Alaska woman survive 3 days trapped in cold

A woman survived nearly three nights in bitter interior Alaska cold by burning her snowmobile and huddling with her small dog, Alaska State Troopers said Thursday.

Vivian Mayo, 57, of Cantwell, was found at about 1 a.m. Wednesday, taking shelter under the burned-out hulk of her snowmobile and sharing body heat with Elvis, a small, brown dog of unknown breed. She was severely hypothermic and in need of immediate medical attention, troopers said.

Megan Peters, spokeswoman for the troopers, said the dog likely helped Mayo preserve her body heat.

"It really did help save her life," Peters said. "Elvis is a little hero."

Mayo's ordeal began over the weekend.

She and her husband, Scott Mayo, 61, traveled on snowmobiles to a cabin near Mile 105 of Denali Highway, a mostly gravel east-west road east of Denali National Park and Preserve. The highway connects two paved highways but is not maintained during winter months and is not open to cars and trucks.

Scott Mayo departed the cabin by snowmobile Saturday to check on a trap line that started 4 to 5 miles away, Peters said.

He had not returned by Sunday. The Mayos were not due back to Cantwell, a community at the west side of the Denali Highway, until Tuesday night, and Vivian Mayo made the decision to return to Cantwell and seek help for her husband.

She did not get far. Her snowmobile broke down Sunday about a mile from the cabin.

The Mayos had told family members they would be back by 7 p.m. Tuesday, and if they weren't back by 10 p.m. Tuesday, to alert authorities.

Family members called troopers Tuesday night. Alaska Wildlife Trooper James Ellison and volunteer rescuers headed out and found Vivian Mayo in about three hours, Peters said. Mayo was starting her third night in the frigid temperatures, which dipped as low as minus 20 degrees.

Her mobility was limited, Peters said, and she could not simply walk the mile back to the cabin. The burned-out snowmobile had been tipped over and Mayo was using the shell for shelter, cuddled with Elvis, Peters said. She did not know how Mayo ignited the snowmobile.

Mayo at one point told rescuers that she saw wolves approaching but troopers found no tracks or other indication of the predators.

Ellison activated a personal locater beacon to alert the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage and took Mayo and Elvis back to the cabin. The searchers turned their focus to finding Scott Mayo.

Ellison at 2:45 a.m. reported finding what he believed was Scott Mayo's trail. He gave trail coordinates to the rescue center, which responded with a C-130 airplane and a Pave Hawk helicopter.

Searchers in the airplane spotted Scott Mayo at 5:13 a.m., just 2 to 3 miles from the cabin, Peters said. Tracks from his snowmobile indicated he had traveled much farther. He had built a small warming fire and was reported in good condition despite starting his fourth night in the cold.

The Pave Hawk landed and took Mayo back to the cabin before the Mayos were flown by helicopter to Anchorage.

Both Vivian and Scott Mayor had been released from a hospital by Thursday afternoon, Peters said. Calls to their home Thursday went unanswered.

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