A U.S. Coast Guard aircrew rescued two stranded, hypothermic workers Saturday morning after their vehicle became submerged in a swift channel on the Tsirku River, about five miles upriver from Devil’s Elbow.

Residents John Coulter and Nathan Jones were driving to their nearby mining claim to set up a camp when their vehicle drifted into deep water, Coulter said. Coulter said they have permits for their claim.

According to Coulter, they had to cross the river five to six times to travel to the site, depending on how high the water is. The two had made the trip before to visit their mining claim, but only in a large truck. This time, they were in Jones’ Toyota Land Cruiser, and got stuck in a trench along the embankment.

“As soon as we realized the vehicle wasn’t going to make it out, I climbed on the hood and grabbed the winch line and tried to figure out something to tie it off to, which of course there wasn’t,” Coulter said.

Jones stood on top of the car and threw their bags and a small amount of food from inside to Coulter who was on shore. The men tied a rope to Jones’ waist for security, and Jones jumped safely to shore.

The cruiser swamped at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, but Coulter didn’t call for help until the following morning. Coulter said he intended to travel another mile farther, to reach a different vehicle, parked at their claim, for a heating source. It was the shortest distance to get to safety and warmth, he said.

Jones, who had been half- submerged in freezing water, suffered from hypothermia. Coulter said despite making a fire and giving his friend an extra set of dry clothes, Jones was shivering uncontrollably and unable to speak clearly.

“One of the survivors was in kind of an altered mental state,” said Lieutenant Kellan Browne, one of the Coast Guard pilots who ew the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Sitka to rescue the men.

The Coast Guard reported freezing temperatures and 20 mph winds on Friday night.

“We were hoping to pull out of the hypothermia, but once I realized that there was no way to get us both out, I realized it’s time to call someone else in,” Coulter said. Coulter had called his uncle on a satellite phone, who was then able to give the Coast Guard an exact location to find the men.

The Coast Guard crew rescued the men Saturday morning, after Alaska State Troopers requested assistance. Two pilots, one flight mechanic, one rescue swimmer and one duty corpsman were on the scene.

“The part that was the biggest help to us was the satellite phone call and them being able to relay their exact position,” Browne said. The pilots were also able to easily locate the men from sparks and smoke from their fire, visible from a few miles out, Browne said.

Coulter and Jones were transported directly to Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau where they were treated for mild hypothermia.

According to Browne, the men warmed up quickly once inside the helicopter. “When we got them to Juneau 40 minutes later, they both showed marked improvements,” he said.

The two men rode the ferry back from Juneau together Sunday morning. Coulter says they are making arrangements to retrieve the vehicle from the river.

“If we hadn’t known where they were and were just searching, who knows if we would have been able to find that position,” Browne said. “Their communication device certainly saved their lives.”