ANDOVER — Tyler Howard-Gotto knew he had to stay calm when the snowmobile he was riding with a friend got stuck in deep snow and they realized they were lost in the woods at night in the bitter cold with no way to get out but walk.

“Once you know you’re done, you need to take a deep breath, take in where you are and start walking, keep moving,” Tyler said. “That’s the only thing you gotta do.”

Tyler’s measured reasoning helped the 15-year-old and his friend Jonah May, also 15, stay alive after the two got stuck Monday night while snowmobiling from Mexico to Andover.

The two walked about 4 miles along an ungroomed snowmobile trail, through snow that was about a foot deep, before finding a storage shed where they spent the night huddled together in subzero temperatures.

The teenagers found their way back Tuesday morning and were in good condition – hungry but no hypothermia or other injuries.

They had left Tyler’s mother’s house in Mexico at 7:30 Monday evening, riding an orange 2007 Arctic Cat Crossfire snowmobile. They were headed for a camp in Andover owned by Tyler’s grandfather, said Cpl. John MacDonald, a spokesman for the Maine Warden Service. Andover is about 15 miles northwest of Mexico.


When they had not arrived by 10 p.m., the family became worried and notified authorities. The warden service launched a search at midnight that included volunteers from several snowmobile clubs, trail groomers and members of the Mexico Fire Department.

The two turned up at about 10 a.m. Tuesday.


Tyler attends school in Rhode Island, but he grew up in Rumford and knows the area. In an interview at his grandfather’s camp Tuesday afternoon, Tyler said he trusted the survival training he had received from his family and knew he and his friend would be fine if they kept their wits about them.

“You gotta keep calm in a survival situation,” he said. “That’s the whole thing.”

Tyler was driving when they missed a turn that would have taken them to his grandfather’s camp, and crossed Devil’s Den Road heading west toward Sawyer Notch. He then turned off the westbound trail, which was groomed, onto South Sawyer Trail, which was not.


“I tried to turn around, but we got bogged down,” he said.

The snowmobile became stuck just off the trail, about halfway between Devil’s Den Road and Black Cat Road, just south of Richardson Lake, he said.

Both boys had phones with them, but were unable to get a cellular signal in the woods.

The boys first tried to start a fire using a rag soaked in gasoline from the snowmobile, but were unsuccessful. They then walked to Black Cat Road and down to the shore of Richardson Lake. There, Jonah said, he looked to the sky.

“I was scared, to be honest. I was thinking, ‘Ah my mother, ah my cat,’ all that stuff. So I was, like, ‘Come on, show me a sign,’ ” Jonah said. “I seen a shooting star go down, and that’s where the cabin was.”



When the boys got to the storage shed, they tore boards off a door and broke a lock to get inside – they said they believe the owners would understand, given the circumstances. They used gasoline and a broken sign to start a fire and spent the night in a small truck-like golf cart inside the shed.

They could hear warden service aircraft overhead during the night, and hoped officials would see their fire just outside the shed. But when no one came, they slept inside until dawn.

Tuesday morning, they walked across the ice on the south end of Richardson Lake to South Arm Road, where they were picked up by a motorist and driven to the grandfather’s camp.

“I felt like if anybody else was in the woods at that time, 9 p.m., below zero, if I didn’t have him with me, I probably would have gone a little crazy out there in the middle of the woods,” Tyler said, gesturing to Jonah next to him.

Jonah said he just did what Tyler told him and trusted his friend – and his survival knowledge – to get them out safely.

“I trust this kid with my life,” Jonah said, adding that the experience left him with a much greater appreciation for everything he has in life.


MacDonald said that given the below-zero temperatures, the boys were lucky they suffered no hypothermia.

Temperatures in the area dropped to minus 12 overnight, according to the National Weather Service, and the wind-chill measured in Fryeburg, about 60 miles to the south, made it feel like minus 27.


Andover, a town of 800 in rural Oxford County, is a popular snowmobiling area. But the surrounding woods and frozen ponds can be remote.

Evan Tibbetts, owner of Evan’s Small Engine Repair in Roxbury, said he went with wardens to retrieve the stuck snowmobile Tuesday.

“They walked approximately 4 miles,” he said, noting that even though it was on a snowmobile trail, the snow was about a foot deep and it felt like walking in sand.


Bryan Courtois, president of Pine Tree Search and Rescue and education coordinator for Maine Association for Search and Rescue, said the youths did many things right.

They didn’t go alone, had told someone where they were going and when they were due to arrive, they had materials to start a fire and were dressed warmly, he said. They stayed on the trail and didn’t wander off into the woods.

Ideally, they would have had a small kit just in case, with an ax, maybe a tarp to fashion an emergency shelter, extra clothes, water and food, he said.

“It won’t be a comfortable night but you’ll survive,” he said.

Tyler’s mother, Tracy Howard, had tried to convince the boys Monday night to stay in Mexico, but being teenage boys, they insisted, she said.

“I am relieved as heck. It’s been a long night,” Howard said.


The boys had come to Maine for the funeral of Tyler’s father, Tim Gotto, who died after being struck by a car in Bangor on Jan. 19.

Tyler’s grandfather, Phil Howard, said he first learned the boys were safe when he received a cellphone call from the motorist who gave them a ride in the morning.

“You just can’t imagine how relieved I am, and my grandson’s all upset because they made a big deal about it,” Phil Howard said. “He’s well-educated about the woods.”


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