ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Last week, Michael Holman (search) landed his plane on a deserted part of the Koyuktolik Bay shore, hoping to do a little beachcombing.
Instead, the 45-year-old pilot got a six-day test of his survival skills in Alaska's wilderness when the incoming tide destroyed his plane, stranding him at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula (search).
He was found unhurt Sunday beside a campfire that ultimately clued rescuers in on his location. Searchers had been scanning the shorelines for the Palmer resident since last Monday when he failed to arrive in Seldovia, about 140 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Flanked by his wife Nicki and two children, Holman recounted his ordeal moments after arriving by rescue helicopter to Kulis Air National Guard Base (search) in Anchorage.
"I've got visions of cheeseburgers," he said.
Holman said he spent the first three days on the beach waiting for a rescue plane. He had salvaged food, a tent, a gun and other supplies from his blue and white Maule ML-7 before the water swallowed it. One item he forgot, though, was his emergency locator beacon.
Holman said his main priority was keeping warm and dry, while thoughts and worries of his family passed the time.
After three days of waiting, he decided that nobody was going to find him where he was and so moved on. Holman left his tent and most of his supplies, carrying just two cans of sardines with him for food.
"I knew I was out of the search area," he said. "In three days of sitting on the beach, I hadn't seen a single airplane, not a single boat. The map I had was kind of poor for land navigation, but... I figured that would be the best alternative, to try and walk out."
Holman said he trekked across rough terrain from 4 a.m. until 9 p.m. Friday, stopping in the darkness when he came upon an empty lodge. There, he found water, a better map, a bag of rice and most importantly, a handheld radio.
The Civil Air Patrol and others battled winds, snow, rain and fog that decreased visibility, focusing on a 4,000-square-mile area over the Kenai Peninsula.
A Coast Guard crew picked up Holman's message on Saturday and was able to spot him with the help of a bonfire he burned, but wind gusts prevented a helicopter rescue that night.
Holman said because he was so well-equipped, he never let his fears get the best of him.
"Actually, I've got to be honest and say I never reached desperation stage," Holman said. "That doesn't negate the absolute joy I felt at seeing the helicopter this morning."
Early Sunday morning, Holman made his way to a nearby beach, where Air National Guard rescuers picked him up, returned to his original landing site for the rest of his gear, and flew him to Anchorage.
His family was waiting for him when the helicopter landed. His children, 12-year-old Charlie and 9-year-old Laura, ran to hug him as he stepped onto the icy tarmac. His wife followed, and the family stood in an embrace for several minutes before Holman was led away to recount the story to Alaska State Troopers.
Nicki Holman said the past week had been an emotional roller coaster. Searchers first believed they spotted a patch of ice on Turnagain Arm where the plane may have gone through, but a later search showed Holman had not landed there.
Nicki Holman then sat by the phone as crews searched through the short Alaska days battling snow, rain and wind gusts of up to 80 miles per hour.
"The nights were so long and the days were so short when I knew they were out searching for him. I wasn't perhaps confident anymore as some of those guys at the rescue center," she said. "I was starting to give up hope."