Deaf Woman Falls 600 Feet Down A Mountain, Then Suddenly Realizes She's Not Alone

Amelia Milling knew that hiking through snow alone was risky business — especially for someone with a disability. Even though there's nothing quite as peaceful as exploring the snow-covered wilderness, an accident can bring it all crumbling down. During a solo mountain hike in Alaska, Amelia slipped and took a nasty 600-foot fall. When she realized the state of her injuries, she looked up to find she was not alone.

Headed North

Amelia was a student at Rochester Institute of Technology. Needing a break from her studies, she decided to take a three-day solo hike in the beautiful Alaskan mountains. She already knew it wouldn't be an easy feat, especially for a young deaf woman on her own, but she was up for the challenge.

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A Serious Fall

The 2018 hike started perfectly. The air was crisp, the sky was blue, and Amelia was full of energy on that Alaskan summer day. Things were so perfect, in fact, that Amelia didn't notice a patch of ice at the trail's end.

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Badly Injured

Losing her balance, she slipped and fell 600 feet down the side of the trail — nearly the length of two football fields! Amelia's body was battered and bruised from slamming into rocks and trees on her way down. She had no way of knowing if anyone nearby heard her cries of panic.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Unable to Stand

Likely, she was on her own. Before she could work her way back to civilization, Amelia had to figure out just how bad her situation was. When she tried to stand, her legs shook, making it difficult to stay up. She badly needed help.

Amelia Milling

No Signal

She grabbed her satellite messenger. Amelia tried and tried to reach someone for assistance, but it appeared her messenger had also been pummeled during the fall. Just as her darkest fears began to creep in, Amelia caught sight of a figure moving through the white snow. It was headed in her direction!

Adventure Journal

Moving Fast

Amelia was frozen in fear. After all, these woods were home to all sorts of dangerous creatures out on the hunt. Perhaps this was a wolf who thought she was an injured animal. And Amelia was an injured animal! She braced herself as the creature leapt toward her.

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Surprise!

As the animal's weight came down on her, Amelia was surprised to feel it accompanied by repeated, rough licking. It was a beautiful white husky! Amelia couldn't believe her eyes. The dog had a collar, meaning it wasn't a stray. The second she read the dog's name, Amelia knew she was her guardian angel.

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Lead The Way

The dog's named was Nanook, which is an Alaskan Inuit name meaning "polar bear." Nanook barked when she heard her name, rekindling Amelia's withering hope. Amelia used all her strength to get on her feet and start moving. Nanook ran ahead, turning every few feet. They were in it together now!

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A Slow Trek

Unfortunately, Amelia was still struggling to move. But that didn't bother Nanook, who stayed patient as they shuffled through the untouched snow. Amelia prayed that Nanook knew the way, but she had her doubts when they came across a dangerous obstacle.

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Crossers Beware

Nanook led them to a frozen lake. Amelia tried to persuade Nanook to go a different direction, but the husky insisted they cut across the frozen tundra. Amelia, noting Nanook's confidence, decided to follow. She moved along, slowly and carefully. After making it a few yards out, Amelia heard a sudden crack.

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A Freezing Splash

First one crack. Then another. Within moments, the ice below Amelia was crumbling! Just as she went to move, the ice below her gave out, dropping Amelia into the freezing-cold water. She screamed out for help, and Nanook came running.

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Diving Right In

With no hesitation, Nanook jumped right in after Amelia! She used her teeth to pull Amelia up above the water, and then doggy paddled to the ice's edge. To survive without freezing, Amelia would have to crawl out fast. But she could already feel her body going into shock!

Snappy Goat

The Big Save

Nanook pulled herself out of the water and began tugging on Amelia's clothes. With Nanook's help, Amelia swung her leg up and scooted herself on top of the ice. Once again, Nanook had saved her life! But now her body temperature was dangerously low, and walking seemed impossible.

Staying Warm

So she could warm back up, Amelia hurried into her sleeping bag. To her delight, Nanook crawled right inside with her! The heroic husky licked and licked Amelia's face, unaware that her body's warmth was saving Amelia from freezing to death. After some time, Amelia decided to try the satellite messenger once more.

Facebook/Nanook “nookie” swift

SOS

The messenger still wasn't working, so Amelia hit the side of it again and again. Finally, the screen flickered on! Amelia quickly entered the SOS signal and sent it out. Then, it was a waiting game. Thankfully, she had Nanook to keep her company. But how long would they have to stay put?

NewRoad Adventures / YouTube

A Long Wait

Hours passed and the colors of the sky changed above them. Amelia was beginning to worry that her signal had failed. Should she and Nanook start moving again? As fearful thoughts filled her mind, Amelia began to drift asleep. Suddenly, the ground's vibrations shook her awake. Nanook felt it, too!

Flickr/Jack Mayer

The Ground Shakes

As a deaf woman, Amelia immediately recognized the significance of the ground's vibrations. Nanook began to bark as they grew more intense. Soon, dirt was rising into the air. While shielding her eyes, Amelia tried to make out the source of the vibrations.

Growing Closer

High above Amelia and Nanook was a rescue helicopter! Her SOS signal had been received after all. Amelia waved her arms desperately, hoping the pilots wouldn't miss her. This could be her last chance.

Facebook/Andrea Gilbert

Saved At Last

Amelia nearly burst into tears as the helicopter descended. They finally were saved! The rescue team took them into the sky and Amelia was rushed to the hospital. It didn't take long to see that her wounds would heal fine. Now, Amelia needed to know: where did Nanook come from?!

Facebook/Alaska State Troopers (Official)

Mystery Solved

State troopers contacted the number on Nanook's collar. Within an hour, her owner, Scott Swift, arrived at the hospital. He'd been worrying about Nanook's whereabouts, but wasn't surprised when he heard what she'd been up to. Apparently, this wasn't her first time saving hikers' lives!

Facebook/Andrea Gilbert

Professional Rescuer

Nanook had previously saved three other hikers who'd lost their way on the icy trail. It was astounding! Scott was beginning to see a pattern, so he decided to start a Facebook page to see if anyone else had been aided by the heroic husky. He was shocked by the response!

Facebook/Nanook "nookie" swift

A True Legend

Many people responded to share their stories of meeting Nanook on the trail! They were overjoyed to give thanks to the incredible pup, but none more than Amelia. Of course, she hadn't yet heard of the O'Reillys—a family whose 4-year-old son nearly lost his life at the mercy of a far less friendly canine.

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Outdoor Family

Although the O'Reillys called New Hampshire their home, they spent far more time outside the house. Ian and Alison passed on their passion for the great outdoors to their kids before they could even walk, but the parents never expected to place their children in danger.

Facebook / Ian O'Reilly

Animal Threat

See, around the O'Reilly's home in Exeter, police were trying to track down an animal culprit harassing locals. One 62-year-old woman and her frightened dogs had to flee when a predator chased them out of the woods.

Coyote Stalking

Another resident got a much better look at the beast. He was just driving down the road when a wild coyote attempted to attack him through his car! The glass and steel protected him, though it didn't make sense why the animal was so aggressive.

Setting Out

Alison and Ian heard these reports but didn't worry about them too much. After all, New Hampshire was a big place full of wildlife. They wouldn't let a couple scares ruin their plans for a wintry hike in 2020.

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Careful Planning

The five O'Reillys were retracing a trek they'd completed just a few weeks prior. It took just about two and a half hours, the perfect amount of time to stretch their legs without tiring the kids out. What could go wrong?

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Being Watched

The second journey began much like the first. Everyone took in the picturesque views and shared jokes and stories. They were having such a fun time that nobody noticed a stranger was stalking them.

California Fish and Wildlife

Coyote Approaches

Against all odds, the coyote found them in the New England wilderness. The O'Reillys didn't see the feral canine at first, until it announced its presence in the most horrifying way imaginable.

Christopher Bruno

Not Just a Dog

It pounced on their preschool-aged son! Alison yanked him out from under the creature, not yet realizing the threat they were facing. Instead, the couple was "thinking it was a dog off leash who just bumped into [their] son."

Then the truth clicked in Ian's mind: this was no dog. This was a bloodthirsty predator, and they were the prey. Not knowing what else to do, the dad stepped between the coyote and his family. He was terrified of what would happen next.

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Ian's top priority was getting his wife and kids to safety. He yelled at them to run as fast as they could. Turning back toward the coyote, Ian lifted his heavy hiking boot and kicked its ribs with all his might.

REI Co-op

That only made the rabid canine even angrier. It knocked Ian to the ground, toppling him just as easily as it did his young child, and bit at his chest. Fans tore right through the hiker's winter jacket and punctured his skin.

Boston Herald

Ian managed to spot his family vanishing in the distance, and he shouted for them to keep moving. At that moment, his terror gave way to anger. What business did this animal have for attacking his family? Ian was going to teach it a lesson.

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A talented endurance athlete, Ian clamped his hands around the canine's snout and squeezed its body between its legs. That completely shut off any airflow in the predator's windpipe. "That coyote was very much interested in living, but so were we," he later reflected.

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Ian didn't let the coyote go, as it could easily sprint off and go after his kids. Exhausted, he kept up the pressure until the animal stopped breathing. He realized he'd killed the beast out of pure instinct, "like it was almost like a logical next step"

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Of course, Ian was much worse for the wear. Every muscle in his body shook with fatigue, and he was bleeding all over from claw and bite marks. The father limped back to his family, and Alison whisked him off to the hospital.

CBS News

The O'Reillys have been surprisingly well-adjusted since the harrowing attack. Alison's work as a PTSD trauma expert helped them all, though their youngest had trouble sleeping in his own bed afterwards. And this wasn't the O'Reilly's only brush with danger.

As much as they traveled, the O'Reilly family had their first brush with the uglier side of nature in their own backyard. Ian was startled when he heard his son utter a cry of delight — followed by a scream.

It turned out a raccoon — and a rabid one at that — was living under their porch. The vicious creature bit the O'Reilly boy on his knee. As Alison pulled him away from the raccoon, a scab on her hand was exposed to his wound.

Both mother and son needed rabies vaccinations afterward but made immediate recoveries. In a sense, Ian counted himself lucky. As unfortunate as the raccoon attack was, the family is hopefully predator-free for the foreseeable future. But Ian is still traumatized.

Facebook / Ian O'Reilly

The rustle of a bush still makes Ian's heart beat faster, but he doesn't let that fear keep him from his outdoor adventures. He can at least take comfort in knowing he defended his family. However, a debate regarding natural predators is splitting wildlife enthusiasts all over the country.

Facebook / Ian O'Reilly

If you were hiking through a remote part of California a few years ago, you might have been warned about grizzly bears. But the chances of coming face to face with any other potentially dangerous animals, especially wolves, wasn't very likely...

In fact, coming across an actual wolf sounds fairly far fetched to a regular tourist or hiker. In the early 1920s, though, this was a different story. Back then, wolves prowled California’s remote forests and farms alike, which posed a dangerous problem.

Because of this, farmers and wolves were constantly at odds. Farmers often hunted wolves in hopes of avoiding a barnyard massacre. They couldn’t have known then the damage they were inflicting, and not just on the wolves.

In 1924, the very last gray wolf was killed. For the next 90 years, California didn’t have any wolves in an area that could support up to 500 of them. Unbeknownst to farmers, the species' absence shifted the balance of the ecosystems they used to inhabit. 

“Wolves keep [elk and deer] in check, which helps vegetation not get overeaten. That vegetation provides nesting habitat for migrating birds and building material for beavers, which create ponds for frogs and fish,” said biologist Amaroq Weiss. And this domino effect was not only noticed by biologists.

See, if something good came out of the mass wolf killings in the ‘20s, it’s that the negative effects alerted researchers nationwide to the dwindling population of gray wolves. So in 1975, the gray wolf received federal endangered species protections...but there weren’t any wolves left to protect.

That is, until 2011, when one lone gray wolf wandered into Siskiyou County from Oregon. Biologists were stunned by this sudden re-emergence. Without a pack to lead or to protect him, this endangered wolf had traveled into an entirely new state — and immediately became an icon.

Though biologists designated him OR-7, activists named him “Journey” in honor of his daring cross-state trek. A GPS collar tracked and recorded his personal hike...as well as his encounters with other animals.

According to his GPS collar, Journey found a mate — likely another migrated wolf — and added five pups to the state’s gray wolf population. He then migrated back to Oregon and fathered more pups. It seemed like those were the last wild wolf pups California would ever see.

It was believed that, as of 2015, the population of wild gray wolves in California was an alarmingly small seven. Since two of the seven wolves were wearing GPS collars, biologists thought that enough of the state’s wolves were being tracked...

So imagine biologists’ shock when, in 2019, two adult wolves were seen caring for three young pups in California. Biologists had no idea these wolves were even there, let alone that they were having pups. Even more unexpected was the way biologists discovered the pack.

The pack was seen hunting and resting on a trail camera in a remote part of Lassen County. The three pups snacked on grass and howled at each other before passing through. Though it only lasts a minute, this footage created a huge stir in the environmental community.

“Having wolves return to California is one of the most significant environmental developments in conservation in this state,” Weiss asserted. This sounds like triumphant news for conservationists and activists everywhere, but some people are far from happy about the wolves’ return.

Farmers and hunters have always tried to subdue the wolf population in California in order to protect their valuable sheep and cattle, and this didn’t change when California’s Fish and Game Commission granted gray wolves special protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act in 2014.

Now that the population seems to be slowly ratcheting upwards, farmers are once again in fear of their livestock being hunted. When California’s Farm Bureau Federation took the matter to court, the fate of the wolves was put into jeopardy. 

Farmers weren’t the only group threatening California’s wolf population, either. The federal government, too, pushed to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list, meaning they would no longer benefit from federal protection. Everything, it seemed, would all come down to the lawsuit.

In the end, the consensus among the scientific community and the court was clear: no matter what happened at a federal level, California’s gray wolves would be protected under state law. In a perfect world, this would keep the gray wolves safe from hunters…

“If they’re coming from the Oregon side of the border or from Nevada, once they set a paw down in California they are protected,” Weiss said. But these idealistic words would not become a reality anytime soon.  

Late last year, a California-born wolf pack mysteriously vanished in remote Siskiyou County. Since biologists weren’t able to collar any pack members, they may never know what happened to the pack. What’s more, they’re not the only mystery to plague California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

They’re also investigating the death of a young wolf that was mysteriously killed in Modoc County. It was handled as a criminal investigation, and the police warned the public that killing a wolf is a potential crime punishable with imprisonment. 

These tragic events only make the recent pack sighting on the trail camera all the more inspiring. Despite the resistance from the farming community, biologists remain hopeful that the wolves will one day lead many wild packs across California and beyond. 

Anyone doubting the importance of wolves need look no further than Yellowstone National Park. In the '80s and early '90s, the beautiful scenery was completely ravaged. And it was all thanks to the wolves — or lack thereof.

National Geographic

See, as mentioned, before 1926, Yellowstone National Park was full of wolves. They thrived there, but within the first few decades of the 1900s, government predator control programs wiped them out entirely. This was a problem.

No one saw another wolf until 1977 — about 50 years later — but, even then, it was a lone wolf or two merely wandering through. Oddly, it was the lack of these wolves that led to the park's decline.

Brian Pas

With no predators to fear, the deer population absolutely exploded. They could eat and overgraze all they wanted without worrying about wolves. Soon, the forests and meadows were barren, but the deer and their ilk kept at it.

As the deer kept grazing, taking all the resources for themselves, the other animals suffered. Creatures that dined on fauna stood no chance in the food race against deer. Animals that ate those animals saw their food supply dwindle.

Photography Life

And the rapid loss of vegetation didn't just leave the forests bare. Without vegetation keeping soil in place, the rivers that ran through Yellowstone began eroding, which prompted the loss of many animal species who relied on healthy waters to survive.

Yellowstone was struggling, and park employees needed to find a solution. It really all boiled down to the high numbers of deer, they knew, so, in 1995, they hatched a plan.

Yellowstone Collection

The deer needed predators, plain and simple, and workers figured this would be the perfect time to reintroduce wolves back into Yellowstone. Packs of gray wolves were released into the park, and hopeful employees prayed it was the answer.

Now, the deer were suddenly thrust back into the predator versus prey world, and even though there were far fewer wolves than deer, the wolves were fearsome hunters. They welcomed the challenge.

Day and night, the battle ensued, and the wolves were the victors nearly every time. This relationship between the wolves and deer is known as "top-down control."

Top-down control is when predators who sit atop the food chain assist with the regulation of the animals who are beneath them. That's exactly what happened when the wolves were reintroduced. With deer numbers dwindling, the vegetation flourished.

U.S. Marines

Aspen and willow trees that hadn't seen a successful life for decades finally grew back tenfold, and it seemed they were healthier than ever. But, the trees were just the very beginning of the massive change.

The waterways running through the parks began changing, and the regenerated vegetation growing on the riverbeds brought with it a whole new array of life not seen in such a long time.

For the first time in forever, beavers returned to the water. They began constructing their intricate dams, which contributed to a habitat that attracted a variety of reptiles, otters, and muskrats.

Because of the increased vegetation, mice and rabbits thrived, which, in turn, gave the red fox an amazing feasting opportunity. Red fox numbers grew, and still, there was even more happening.

The number of bears also increased. The deer had scoured bushes and ate the same berries the bears enjoyed, but with the berries now finally plentiful again, the bears could eat without a problem.

Through it all, the wolves gained a feathery friend! Ravens are known to follow behind wolves and pick at the remains of whatever they hunt and kill. The four-legged assassins were hard at work, and those ravens were always close behind.

The new lush vegetation not only benefited all of the animals, but it helped drastically slow down, and sometimes completely stop, the erosion of riverbeds. The changes were nothing short of miraculous.

Incredibly, the wolves, although nowhere near as abundant in numbers as the deer they hunted, managed to not only change the ecosystem but the physical geography of Yellowstone National Park. It was a feat that had every park employee — and wolf — howling with joyous pride.

What's most shocking about this development was how few wolves it took to really change Yellowstone for the better. Still, this reflects a human truth: it only takes a handful of people to make a huge difference.

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