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Vacation By South Coast Men Turns Into Epic Adventure, With Flooding Leaving Group Stranded In Alaska's Backcountry

Two Ventura County men had a camping trip in Alaska's backcountry turn into a huge adventure, complete with an an emergency in their charter plane and flooding which left them stranded for days.
(Photo courtesy Eric Buschow)
Two Ventura County men had a camping trip in Alaska's backcountry turn into a huge adventure, complete with an emergency in a charter plane and flooding which left them stranded for days.

Campers paddle 55 miles down rain swollen river to get airlifted out of area

It was planned from the beginning as a fun outdoor adventure by two Ventura County buddies.

Imagine spending a week and a half floating down a remote Alaskan river, camping and fishing along the way.

Well, it didn’t turn out to be quite that leisurely, with everything from an in-flight emergency en route to torrential rain which left the group stranded for days.

Eric Buschow, who's a Captain with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, went on the trip with his friend Tim Hagel. Hagel is a recently retired Sheriff’s Office Commander. They went to Alaska with 10 others on the wilderness trip.

The plan was simple enough. They would be flow to a remote area, with the plane landing on a sandbar. They would then raft downstream, stopping to camp and fish along the way.

The dozen adventurers left Los Angeles June 24th. But, as they started the actual adventure, things started to go wrong. Most of the group boarded what's known as a bush plane, which is especially built to land on dirt and gravel clearings. As they prepared to land at their first campsite, the pilot lowered the flaps, but noticed the lever appeared to be loose.

Buschow says he noticed hydraulic fluid seeping up on the plane’s floorboard. The pilot said they had a big problem. Without hydraulic fluid, the plane's breaks might not work properly on landing. It was possible that the plane would roll past the dirt clearing and into the river. So, they turned around and flew back 150 miles to the airport, fixed the hydraulics, and then made it safely to their first campground.

After two nights, they moved downstream, and set up another campsite just as it started to rain. Butr, Buschow says it then rained, and rained, so much they had two move their camp twice to avoid the raging river. They finally moved away from the river, and up into the forest to put some distance between themselves, and the floodwaters.

Buschow says the group took it in stride. They had lots of food and water.

The rain finally eased, but the area was so flooded that planes couldn’t come to get them. And, they realized they had to do something, because another storm was on the way. With the swollen river washing out their planned pickup spot downstream, they had to paddle 55 miles in one day to reach a village where a plane could meet them.

Buschow says it was a crazy set of circumstances. While the trip was nothing like what was planned, it did turn into an unforgettable adventure for the group, and the Ventura County buddies. But, Buschow says his next vacation may be a little more tame, to somewhere where you can sit by a pool and enjoy drinks which come with little umbrellas.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.