Kari Swenson: Survivor, Part III

This is the third post in my series on the disappearance of Kari Swenson.

For my other Kari Swenson posts, you can go here.

Summary of Previous Posts:

Twenty-two year old student Kari Swenson enjoyed running trails on her breaks from the Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. On July 15, 1984, she encountered two men while trudging along a mountain path. One of the men grabbed and punched Kari, and then the two restrained her with nylon cord. They then led her off of the marked trail and into the wilderness. The kidnappers eventually set up camp where Kari spent the night chained to a tree. She learned that they planned to make her become the “wife” of the younger of the two mountain men. Unaware of the kidnapping but searching for Kari, two rescuers wandered into the area of the camp, and during the confusion, the younger attacker accidentally shot Kari in the chest.



Shot in the chest, Kari tried to focus on the movement and voices around her, but everything seemed to be a blur. The blond man with the mustache, a rescuer, was leaning over her looking at the wound. The elder Don Nichols was behind them both—he was aiming his rifle at the man offering aid.

The mustached man (Jim Schwalbe) hollered back into the clearing: “Al, call for help. We need some help!

Trying to regain control of the situation, Don Nichols ordered, “Shut Up!

Drop your guns. You’re surrounded by 200 men. You can’t get away!” a new voice was heard from the trees.

The old man began swinging his rifle back and forth trying to identify the location of the second intruder.

The blond rescuer stood and backed away from Kari. Trying to diffuse the situation, he stated to the Nichols: “Everything is cool. Nobody is going to get hurt. We don’t want any more gun play.

Kari watched as Don Nichols took cover behind an adjacent tree. With precision, he sighted the rifle and fired.

The shot silenced everyone. After a few moments, the blond rescuer ran away from Kari into the forest shouting for his now dead friend.

Don Nichols’s fatal rifle shot had struck rescuer Al Goldstein in the head.

The two kidnappers looked at Kari’s wound, unchained her, decided it was hopeless, and began hurriedly packing their gear.

You’re just leaving me here. Aren’t you? At least let me have the sleeping bag,” Kari said.

Her attackers did not respond. After a few moments, Danny Nichols grabbed the bottom of her sleeping bag and pulled. Kari landed on the forest floor with a painful thud.

In a blur of movement, her attackers were gone—leaving her bleeding and alone.

She could hear the squawking of the dead man’s radio somewhere in the distance, but she was unable to move far.

In agony, she crawled three feet toward the remains of the camp’s fire, and realized that the bullet had passed through her lung--the gurgling sounds coming from her chest terrified her.

Kari knew shock would kill her soon, and she had to find warmth.

Far off to her left, she saw a boot (the body of the deceased rescuer), and much closer to her right she spied what looked like a pack. It took great strength for Kari to reach the backpack and then root through the contents.

Disappointed that she did not find another radio, Kari pulled out a sleeping bag from the pack, and wiggled inside. The bag also contained a canteen with lemonade and a candy bar.

Kari fought to stay awake and tried not to think about dying in the clearing.


When Kari was first reported missing and the search began, no one considered the scenario that she had been kidnapped—the accepted notion was that she had encountered a bear or wild animal on the trail or had become lost while running.

Authorities would not learn about the abduction until the mustached-man found help after he had fled the Nichols camp.

By then, one rescuer was dead, and Kari was seriously wounded.


Since I am focusing on Kari’s story with this series, I’ll summarize the end of the story.

Aided by the escaping rescuer, authorities identified the site where Kari had been shot, and in a few hours a team led by the two sheriffs in charge of the investigation heard her weakly calling for help.

Kari had lost a tremendous amount of blood, but rescuers were able to get her to an open area where she could be flown to a hospital via helicopter.

Even after surviving her ordeal in the woods, Kari’s helicopter almost crashed after clipping some branches in the thick woods while trying to fly from the scene.

Next week, I’ll discuss the aftermath of Kari Swenson’s kidnapping.

You can read any of the previous post about Kari Swenson by going here.

Note: For this series, I used law enforcement's version of the incident recorded in the book Incident at Big Sky as well as several other available articles.  The book also uses statements from the victim, and notes from one of the kidnappers who kept a journal. 


SuziCate said...

This has been one of your most intriguing series.

Tara said...

Wow. I missed the first two of this one somehow. The strength of some people astounds me.

Brian Miller said...

wow...thanks for wrapping this up...it really has been intriguing...what a survivor...

Audrey Allure said...

Wow such an intense situation.

Travel Nurse Extraordinaire said...

What a strong and courageous girl. I honestly believe in the survivor mentality and she obviously had it.

T. Anne said...

Inspirational in a scary way! I'll have to look up the first two.

WomanHonorThyself said...

thanks Slam fer the update and inpiration.:)

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

That sucks that even though she survived someone had to die. What a crazy story though! Sounds like she was NOT meant to die, not on that day at least.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

She's survive, though, right? The poor girl. How do you survive emotionally from something like that?

carma said...

these guys do not sound like rocket scientists ;-) enjoying reading this series c

Angelia Sims Hardy said...

An amazing story of strength and resilience of a woman who had to have been scared out of her mind.
The poor rescuers!

I am looking forward to her complete amazing story.

jodeeluna said...

This post had me riveted. What an amazing story of human endurance.

BobKat said...

Well written SD.

Looking forwards to next Monday when you summarize her experience.

Kari is lucky to be alive! She survived, but at what cost? And what justice?

joanny said...

An amazing story, I would like to image that some greater force was watching over this one to help her to survive and tell her story, perhaps for reasons that will become clear someday.


Reggie said...

Oh, thank goodness! She was rescued! What an extraordinary woman she is to have survived an experience like that. A well-written series, looking forward to next Monday's analysis.

ladyfi said...

Oh my goodness! What a terrible story, but at least she survived...

kathryn said...

What a horrifying story. That poor girl...I hope she can somehow get past this terror and that she has a loving, fulfilled life.

malone8 said...

I remember this horror when it happened.

It's unbelievable how one parent passes on madness … while others instill perseverance and courage.

kcinnova said...

She has an amazing will to live.