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Associated Press, Published January 23 2013

Wisconsin snowmobiler rescued after 2 nights in the cold

DULUTH, Minn. - The lost snowmobiler from Superior, Wis., who spent two nights out in the cold this past weekend is continuing to heal from severe frostbite at a Duluth hospital and for the first time Tuesday recounted his experience in subzero weather on Wisconsin’s Nemadji River.

Craig Friebe remains in fair condition as doctors monitor frostbite on his feet and nose, his wife, Becky, reported Tuesday afternoon on a CaringBridge webpage set up for her husband.

“He is still ‘defrosting,’ ” she wrote on the page, “and is in a lot of pain.”

Friebe was reported missing Saturday after he didn’t return home Friday night, Becky Friebe wrote in a journal set up on the site. He had last been seen on his snowmobile by ice fishermen a few hours before daybreak Saturday in Superior’s East End.

He disappeared and wasn’t found until Monday morning and apparently spent two nights on the frozen Nemadji River as the temperature dipped to 15 degrees below zero each night.

Craig Friebe wrote about his experience on the Caring Bridge site.

He said he ran into a friend in a Superior yard at about 3 a.m. and showed him his snowmobile.

The friend said he planned to go out to a fish house in the Superior harbor and said Friebe should meet him there. Friebe eventually found the house, but his friend hadn’t arrived.

Friebe said he then decided to head down the mouth of the nearby Nemadji River. He said it was still dark as he followed the river and came off of it a few times in South Superior and then continued west on the river.

He said he ran out of gas as dawn broke. A Douglas County sheriff’s report said Friebe ended up near open water and the Minnesota border southwest of Oliver.

Friebe, in his account, was obviously confused about where he was. He said he walked all day looking for “signs of life” to get help but couldn’t find any homes in the area. He said he lit fires periodically during the day to keep warm. The temperature was in the 20s most of the afternoon Saturday, but it was dropping fast into the night.

It wasn’t clear if he followed the river the entire time or tried to cut through dense forest.

By dark on Saturday night, he was hunkered down at a tree overhanging the river. He said he lit the tree on fire to keep warm.

He eventually fell asleep and rolled into the fire.

“My clothes and hair were burned,” he wrote in his Web journal.

He rolled into a pool of water the fire had created on the ice. He wasn’t burning but now he was wet.

He took off his boots and tried to warm his feet.

He was up and walking again before daybreak Sunday and made attempts to go over the river banks when he thought he saw buildings. They turned out to be tricks on his eyes, he said.

A search party had begun by then and Friebe said he heard a plane overhead. He burned some pine needles to create some smoke but realized the plane was too high to see it.

He had been walking all day, he said, and by the end of light on Sunday found himself back at his snowmobile.

“Which meant I walked a full circle,” he wrote.

As night fell again, he went into a cave-like area on the bank and “cuddled up to keep out of the wind because I was so cold and tired.”

He started to doze off and realized he had to keep moving. Reoriented somewhat by finding his snowmobile, he decided to follow its tracks back east to the last bridge he remembered riding under.

He said if he didn’t keep moving and stay awake, “I would die.”

He said he walked all night before reaching the bridge at daylight Monday morning. He saw a snowplow pass just before 8 a.m. and then saw the driver come back and park.

The driver called for help.

The sheriff’s report said Friebe emerged from the river bank at the bridge on Douglas County Road W and sat on the guardrail.

The plow driver asked if he needed help but saw that Friebe was agitated and having trouble with his words. She called police.

The deputy who soon arrived on the scene said Friebe had on a jacket over bib overalls, glasses with one lens missing, no gloves and wild hair filled with brush.

He was sent to Essentia St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth and is being monitored at the burn unit there.

On the Caring Bridge site, Becky Friebe thanked all those who searched for her husband, the hospital staff for treating his injuries, and “most of all, the plow driver who saved him.”

A fund has been set up to help the Friebes with the recovery. Donations can be sent to Hermantown Federal Credit Union locations in Superior, Duluth and Hermantown.