Storm damages homes and infrastructure in villages
Flooding at Hooper Bay separates the two sections of the village. Photo by Desi O'Brien.
November 10, 2013
The storm of the last two days brought high winds and water to most coastal villages this weekend, and although nearly every village along the Bering Sea suffered flooding, only four to five villages were most impacted.
The least impacted was Tununak, whose road to the bridge and airport was washed out. Nunam Iqua lost power and Alakanuk's road went underwater and became covered in debris. Alakanuk's taxiway and apron has been damaged by rain and floodwaters in the past week.
The Bering Sea washing out the road to the bridge in Tununak. Photo by Peter Angaiak.
Floodwaters were said to have risen quickly like a flash flooding event, residents said. About 5 persons were evacuated to the high school in Alakanuk, but they went home as the flood began receding before dawn.
Scammon Bay suffered one of its worst floods in memory, and boats had to be removed from the apron of the airport and runway, as well as other debris. A portion of the apron was most likely damaged. The pipe to the oil tanks near the fishery plant was also damaged, and a diesel spill is suspected however what amount was spilled is unknown.
Newtok suffered even more erosion from the storm, with 10's of feet of ground lost to the water. The north bank of the Ninglick River has now crept up closer to the Fueling Header (where fuel barges offload their contents) and heavy equipment. It is expected that by next year, if more drastic flooding events occur again, AVCP Housing units near the river will begin to be impacted.
The Fuel Header and other structures were spared from the recent erosion of the Ninglick River in Newtok. Photo by Paul Lincoln.
The most impacted village was Kotlik, where at least four homes were damaged or knocked off their foundations. The flood waters came up so high that one home floated away a short distance, and a steam bath floated away.
Kotlik's water and sewer system was also damaged, as the flood waters tore some pipes from homes. About 100-150 of the town's residents began evacuating last night and took shelter in the high school when the flood waters began rising quickly before midnight.
Stebbins, of the two villages just east of Kotlik, suffered nearly the same fate, as homes were knocked off their foundations and moved onto neighboring homes. At least two boats floated onto the cemetary and atop grave sites.
Storms batter western Alaska
November 7, 2013
Yesterday, winds howled and blew with such intensity that it forced seawater onto lowlands along the west coast of Alaska. The storm appeared to weaken toward evening, as the storm moved north and which will affect northwest Alaska much of today with high winds that gust up to 65 mph.
Flooding in Hooper Bay. Photo by Williamina O'Brien.
Hooper Bay reported a snowstorm with flooding which inundated the lowlands around the village and a portion of the road in the middle of the village. A boat or two drifted away. The nearby village of Chevak reported wind gusts as high as 61 mph.
In Toksook, wind and waves battered a parked LCM and barge owned by Alaska Logistics. Photo by Jimmie Lincoln.
Coastal flooding is forecasted to continue persisting through the weekend, surging one to three feet during high tides in the Kuskokwim Delta.
Due to the current jet stream flow, another low pressure system is expected to be pushed into the western Alaska coast again which is expected to cause more stormy weather this weekend, with heavy surf and coastal flooding. This storm is expected to bring more precipitation however, therefore heavy snowfall, rain and freezing rain are expected. The most affected areas will be the upper Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, Upper Kuskokwim, and further north.
Weather around the region
November 6, 2013 4:00 PM
At 3:00 PM, the FAA AWOS (automated weather observing system) reports for certain locations contained the following:
-At Cape Newenham: Wind SSE 33 mph, gusting to 61 mph. Clear.
-At Kipnuk: Wind E 43 mph, gusting to 48 mph. Light rain, mist.
-At Mekoryuk: Wind SSE 37 mph, gusting to 49 mph. Overcast.
-At Hooper Bay: Wind ESE 40 mph, gusting to 49 mph. Overcast.
-At Cape Romanzof: Wind 31 mph, gusting to 54 mph. Heavy snow.
-At Bethel: Wind E 15 mph. Overcast.
The Cape Newenham and Kipnuk FAA AWOS's are closest to the Kialik River area.
Quinhagak boaters missing
UPDATE: November 6, 2013 2:00 PM
It has been reported that the three missing boaters have arrived or been located at the village of Quinhagak as of 1:00 PM today, with confirmation coming from the local authorities in Quinhagak.
November 6, 2013 - Original story
Yesterday, a report was made to Bethel Search and Rescue about people in one boat that were supposedly heading to Quinhagak from Napakiak, but not have been heard from since Monday, the day of their travel.
Walter Johnson, Robert Guest and Adolph Paul were traveling in a Lund with a 70-hp Yamaha. The last message from the boaters was that they were leaving Napakiak and approaching the Johnson River, but were experiencing some kind of motor trouble.
A hasty team from BSAR on Tuesday searched the waterways from Bethel all the way to Kialik River but did not see another boat. Another hasty team from Quinhagak motored from their village to Eek but did not see anything either. Eek volunteers headed to the Kialik River search area for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka reported seeing nothing either.
Currently an Alaska State Trooper aircraft is conducting an aerial search of the Lower Kuskokwim area, including the back sloughs to the Iinrayak River by way of Pismeof Lake.
If anyone has information about these three men, please contact the Alaska State Troopers at 543-2294 or Bethel Search and Rescue at 545-HELP.
This is a developing story. More information will be provided as it comes.
Disaster Preparedness Team begins meeting
Alaska State Troopers Perry Barr and Todd Womack, AVCP's Alvin Jimmie and Jim Wykoff, YKHC's Brian Lefferts, LKSD's Jack Hopstad, AVCP's Denise Nerby, and BSAR/AVCP Housing's Allen Joseph (taking picture) discuss emergency plans in anticipation of flooding in the spring of 2013.
On May 3, 2013, a group of representatives from various organizations met in what will be the first of many meetings overseeing the spring break-up of 2013. The group met at AVCP's conference room.
The topic of the meeting was "Flood Watch 2013" and the goal of the meeting was to prepare certain organizations in Bethel and villages for one or more flooding events along the Kuskokwim River.
The idea or purpose of the group's formation is so that assistance to communities that experience disasters is faster and more organized. In the past, help and planning for assistance to communities only came after disasters struck and usually it was up to only one or two organizations to provide aid, limiting assistance.
Discussion items included how villages are now assisted in getting prepared in case of flooding, who the incident commanders are in those villages, and shelters and/or evacuation plans for flooding refuges in the event of disasters.
An action item from this meeting was to make sure the main governing body of each community is aware of the planning efforts and how they can be involved during actual disaster events.
The team has been meeting for nearly two years, when it was first prompted to by a series of floods affecting several villages up and down the Kuskokwim River in the spring of 2011. Today, the team is organized to oversee more than just floods, but other natural disasters or man-made accidents that may affect Bethel and the surrounding villages.
The members of the Disaster Preparedness Team includes representatives from the National Guard, Alaska State Troopers, City of Bethel, AVCP, Red Cross, AVCP Housing, YKHC, LKSD, Public Health Nurses, Homeland Security, and other organizations.
It is expected that some flooding will occur in the spring of 2013 in both the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers due to the winter's heavy snowfall, late winter or long cold spring, and thick river ice. However, it is unknown at this point which communities may be affected, or if flooding will actually occur. In any case, it is best to be prepared.
The next meeting is set for May 17, or when break-up occurs at McGrath, whichever comes first.
St. Mary's men rescued on Portage Trail
On April 17, 2013, two St. Mary's men--40-year-old Jake Prince and 30-year-old Aaron Elia--riding on one snowmachine were reported out of gas the night before on the Portage Trail (Russian Mission-Kalskag trail) by Russian Mission Search and Rescue Coordinator Daryl Polty to the Alaska State Troopers in Aniak.
A hasty team had gone out then to render assistance but failed to find them in the dark. Another crew of two searchers were dispatched again in the morning and this time they found the men about 10:00 am on the Portage Trail in good condition.
The men said they were towing a disabled snowmachine when they broke down around 6:00 pm about 20 miles east of Russian Mission.
Search ends for Harvey Pitka
Ray Marth missing again
March 14, 2013 -- On Wednesday, March 13, the search for Harvey Pitka ended after his remains were found by an 8-man BSAR crew some 27 miles north of Bethel. The BSAR crew was accompanied by a Marshall SAR crew.
The BSAR crews were able to find Pitka by following a set of footprints that faded in and out on top of snow. He had walked a little more than five miles from his snowmachine before he came to rest in a patch of brush and tried to make shelter. Evidence at the scene suggests that he had gotten wet and hung socks to dry on nearby branches. However, he was not dressed for the weather and appeared to have succumbed to the elements while in his shelter.
He was found by the BSAR crew about 6:00 in the evening. After an investigation by the Alaska State Troopers of the scene, all SAR crews were notified to stand down and return to their villages. Pitka's remains were then brought to Bethel by snowmachine. The BSARs arrived in Bethel around 10 pm, after which the body was turned over to the waiting Troopers, who will ship the body to Anchorage for autopsy.
Earlier on March 13, BSAR was notified that Ray Marth was missing again, along with three other men and his nine-year-old son. Word is that Marth and the others had left on March 12 to retrieve the snowmachine and other items that he had left behind last week in the wilderness (when he went missing for the first time) and didn't return.
However, Marth or the others were able to make contact with Marshall that they were turned around and had run out of gas, and that they were forced to spent the night in the wilderness. An attempt was made on March 13 to bring gas to them but no results have been reported at the time of this writing.
The Search for Harvey Pitka
March 12, 2013 -- On March 11, numerous search crews prowled the plain between the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, and as far east as the Kalskag-Russian Mission trail for any sign of Harvey Pitka. All they found was Ray Marth's snowmachine about 15.5 miles northwest of Kalskag, and about 43 miles east from Pitka's snowmachine. Marth was the other person that went missing with Pitka.
Separate BSAR crews meet up before going home on March 11, 2013 between the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers
SAR crews from BSAR, Napaskiak, Kalskag, Marshall, Russian Mission, Akiachak and the Alaska State Troopers (via plane) participated in the search for Pitka yesterday. The only other thing found was a snowcave made by Marth for shelter while he was traveling in the wilderness.
Marth walks into Kalskag
On Sunday afternoon, March 10, Marth walked to Kalskag and was on the trail going into the village when someone picked him up around 2:00 pm and brought him to the clinic. He later returned to Marshall.
Marth said he left Pitka on the Ohagamiut Trail (from Akiachak) around 2:00 pm on Wedesday, March 6. Both men were running low on gas so he traveled eastward until his snowmachine (the Arctic Cat) ran out of gas. Pitka's snowmachine was found around 4:00 pm that afternoon on the Nunapitchuk Wood Trail to the Yukon River near Ohagamiut, approximately two hours after Marth said he left him.
Apparently, Pitka's snowmachine ran of gas also. Marth said Pitka was wearing two sweaters, mittens and boots but no coat or hat.
At some point before walking, Marth said he was able to see the lights of Russian Mission and Kalskag, and thinking the way to Kalskag was easier, he started moving toward it. Marth said he heard planes around him and above him while he was in the wilderness.
On Sunday, March 10, around 6:00 pm, a person was seen from aircraft walking in the Ohagamiut area on the Yukon River, appearing to have emerged from the portage trail. A plane from Kako was flying in the area when it spotted the man walking on the river and, believing it was Pitka, dropped a survival pack to him.
The man was later picked up by two snowmachiners and was brought to Marshall. When they reached the village, authorities identified him as another man whose snowmachine had recently broken down along the Ohagmiut Trail.
Two Yukon men go missing
March 7, 2013 - Ray Marth and Harvey Pitka were reported missing by their relatives and friends. Marth is from Marshall and Harvey Pitka is from Russian Mission.
Before going missing, they both left Akiachak apparently for Marshall early in the morning hours of Wednesday, March 6. The men were traveling on two snowmachines, a green/black Arctic Cat and a blue/black Yamaha.
A person had brought them to the first tripod that starts the trail to the Yukon, and the person urged them to try crossing the plain later during daylight. However, the two men refused and left, and were not heard from again until Marth walked into Kalskag on March 10.
Search crews from Russian Mission, Marshall, Pilot Station, Nunapitchuk, Napaskiak, Bethel, Akiachak, Kalskag and the Alaska State Troopers have participated in this search activity since the beginning.
Search for overdue Pilot Station man
Feb. 22, 2013 -- On Feb. 18, 2013, BSAR conducted a search for a Pilot Station man who was reported overdue after setting out for his village the prior day.
On Feb. 17, 37-year-old Darrel Nick left Bethel on a newly-purchased Skidoo GTX and was expected to arrive in Pilot Station that evening. When he hadn't made by the next morning on Feb. 18, his absence was reported to the Alaska State Troopers around 9:45 am.
A state trooper aircraft and volunteer searchers from Bethel, Pilot Station and St. Mary's were then dispatched to find Nick but without success.
According to BSAR leadership, Nick had run out of gas along the way and built a fire. The fire attracted another traveler on his way to the Yukon River on Feb. 18, who then gave Nick enough gas to complete his trip to Pilot Station. He made it home around 9 pm that night.
The search crews came home later that night of Feb. 18. The BSAR crew made it home around 11:00 pm.
Caravan of vehicles rescued over weekend
Feb. 20, 2013 -- In the early morning hours of Sunday, Feb. 17, BSAR was called to assist in freeing trucks and SUVs that were stranded on the Ice Road between Bethel and Napakiak. Three members of BSAR, along with a donated loader from Faulkner-Walsh and a follow vehicle, responded around 3:00 AM.
The rescuers found 13-15 vehicles that were trapped all in a line and prevented from making progress by drifting snow along the Ice Road. The drifing snow had made the road impassable, and the folks in the vehicles were returning from a fiddle dance in Napakiak.
The rescuers also learned that there were children in some of the vehicles, and temperatures were in the minus 20s which drove the windchills down to 40 to 50 below.
Other vehicles were trapped further down the river and were assisted in getting freed by the Napakiak SAR team and the City of Napakiak.
After freeing the caravan by plowing the road, the BSAR crew and Faulkner-Walsh equipment returned to Bethel and made it back to Bethel around 5:30 am.
The following was emailed to BSAR recently:
"A Big SHOUT out going to Napakiak Search & Rescue and the City of Napakiak for helping about ten-fifteen cars that were stuck Saturday night. A Big Thank you to Alexie Morris and many more for making sure we all get to our destination safely...And last but not least Johnny, Hughy and Andrew for getting us out of snowdrifts coming to Bethel Sunday morning and Faulkner & Walsh for allowing Search & Rescue for the use of heavy equipment. Thank you All from the bottom of our hearts. -The John Family of Bethel"
Scammon Bay man missing on way to Newtok
Feb. 17, 2013 -- A Scammon Bay man who lives in Hooper Bay was reported to be overdue on a trip to Newtok. The man, Jerry Hunter, left Hooper Bay yesterday on Feb. 16 and did not make it to Newtok as planned.
SAR teams from the Hooper Bay and Newtok then searched the trail between the villages today. Airlines flying into the area were also alerted and were on the look-out for Hunter.
He was found just in time not far from Newtok. A storm system is moving in the Y-K Delta and forecasts call for winds up to 20 mph and windchills as low as 50 below tonite.
Hunter was once the subject of a SAR mission several years ago when he was overdue on a trip between Bethel and Scammon Bay on a four-wheeler. He was a found a couple days later, fine but in somewhat hypothermic condition.
Yukon River travelers stranded in wilderness
Feb. 17, 2013 -- A pair of snowmachiners that left Bethel yesterday around noon, each traveling to a different destination, ended up together after leaving Bethel and became stranded last night in the wilderness somewhere within 30 miles of Pilot Station.
George "Jug" George of St. Mary's, who was traveling to Pilot Station, and Jacob and Olga Isaac who were traveling to their home village of Marshall, were traveling to their destinations when they became disoriented. They found each other at some point after leaving Bethel and stayed together for the rest of their ordeal.
Yesterday, at the time of their departure, the weather in Bethel was poor, due to a ground blizzard and plummeting temperatures. George was well-dressed for cold weather and left with food, a vhf, a gps and overnight gear.
Around 10:30 pm, George made contact with Pilot Station via VHF and said he was with the Isaacs and they had been unable to find the portage to Marshall. George also stated he was having carburetor icing problems. The Isaac's gas tank was empty.
Searchers from Pilot Station then went out into the night to see if they could find them. The initial search was unsucessful, despite an all-night search. New crews then headed out from Pilot Station and St. Mary's this morning to replace the all-nighters who are tired and low on gas.
The stranded individuals and Pilot Station continued to make contact this morning via VHF while searchers scoured the area for the stranded travelers. George stated he could hear snow machines but was unable to see them.
Sometime after the noon hour, they were spotted 8 miles west of Devil's Elbow by St. Mary's-based aircraft and SAR crews were dispatched to the location to pick them up. They were brought to Pilot Station and didn't suffer any cold injuries.
After arriving in Pilot Station, George continued on to St. Mary's.
Chefornak man missing and found
Jobe Abraham laying down in the snow
Feb. 3, 2013 -- On Feb. 1, Jobe Abraham, 42, was reported overdue after going hunting near Dall Lake and Baird Inlet. Search teams from Chefornak, Kipnuk and Newtok were deployed but couldn't find Jobe that day due to limited visibility.
The next day, Feb. 2, the search resumed with air assistance from the Alaska State Troopers (with BSARs as spotters), Civil Air Patrol, and local airline pilots. Ground SARs included those from Chefornak, Nightmute, Toksook Bay, and Kipnuk.
AST pilot Earl Samuelson
AST pilot Earl Samuelson was assisted by Andy Fox along with spotters Mark Leary and Randy Turner from BSAR in the C-208 Caravan. Around 1:00 pm the crew spotted a man walking 11 miles north of Chefornak. A VHF communication with the man confirmed he was Jobe Abraham, who said he'd been walking for 10 hours. He was exhausted, cold, wet, hungry and thirsty.
But he said, too, that he hoped to make it home in time for Superbowl!
The weather when he was found was about 500 feet overcast, with freezing rain and wet snow, and deteriorating further. A hasty team was then dispatched from Chefornak in the direction of Jobe.
Earl prepares to air-drop food and water
On the radio, Jobe asked for food and water. The crew of the Caravan then prepared a package from the food and drinks they had on board to be air-dropped to him. Earl dropped the package a few yards from Jobe, and he made a slow walk to the package, then laid down to eat and drink. The crew on the plane advised him not to eat and drink too much.
He later told his mom that walking to the package was like walking a 100 miles -- that's how tired he was. The Caravan circled Jobe for about an hour as the weather continued deteriorating but they waited for the hasty team to reach the missing man.
BSAR spotter Randy Turner
Around 2:10 pm, a lone Chefornak SAR snowmobile reached Jobe and confirmed by radio that Jobe was in good condition to travel back the remaining miles home by snowmachine. At that point, the Caravan left the scene for Bethel, and in the distance other members of the Chefornak SAR team could be seen approaching the rescuer and the rescued.
All other SAR teams were advised to stand down.
Lost boys found at Nanvarnaq
Jan. 30, 2013 (evening) - Search teams were called back in the morning from the field or from deploying for another day of searching for the two lost Charlie boys of Bethel, when Alaska State Trooper pilot Earl Samuelson announced a "Stand Down" order at around 10:30 am today.
A search crew from BSAR pushes on in inclement weather to find the lost boys
A "stand down" order means that the target of SAR activity may have been located and that all SAR activity cease or abate until the SAR target is confirmed found. Samuelson had located the two boys walking on Nanvarnaq Lake, a part of the Johnson River on the way to Nunapitchuk and Kasigluk. The boys were near the middle of the lake.
Samuelson then called the National Guard Blackhawk helicopter that was also searching in the area and diverted them to the location of the boys. Both Samuelson and the Blackhawk were searching in the area where a C-130 dropped a half dozen or more flares and multiple ground crews from BSAR and several villages were searching the night before.
The area was determined to be where the boys might be located based on their description of their surroundings before their cellphone quit working and from a locator "ping" that GCI picked up when the boys were using their cellphone yesterday.
A crew stops to regroup, count heads, and decide where to continue searching
Although the boys were found to be in somewhat good condition, they were brought to the hospital in Bethel to be treated for cold injuries received during their three days out in blizzard conditions and windchill temperatures as low as -45 below. They were in good spirits however, but dehydrated, cold and exhausted from their ordeal.
When asked about the "light show" put on by the C-130 the night before, they said they were more bewildered than not. The search crews on the ground said the C-130's flares "lit up the whole countryside" and boosted their resolve to find the boys, making them scour as much ground as they could while the bright lights lasted.
A search crew makes a pitstop at Atmautluak before continuing to search into the night
The boys' snowcave faced northerly in an area sheltered from the wind. They said they saw the flares to the right of their cave but did not hear the C-130 as it was flying about. Because of their weakened state, they chose to remain in their snowcave rather than venture out due to cold and exhaustion even when they saw the flares. This decision to stay inside the snow may have been why the C-130, which was "really hoping that the boys could just poke their heads out," was unable to catch their thermal image.
In the morning, and since the weather appeared good, the boys decided to walk and try to find a village. In doing so, they were spotted by Earl Samuelson.
Search enters critical third day
Jan. 30, 2013 - BSAR searchers, along with Alaska State Troopers and USFWS airplanes, are preparing to head out again today to look for the lost Charlie brothers, 18-year-old Phillip and 16-year-old Sam, in the vicinity of Bethel and the tundra villages. The boys are thought to be holed up in this particular area because they are within cellphone range.
The boys were able to make contact with their dad, Ray Charlie of Bethel, yesterday beginning in the morning and sporadically throughout out the day. However, their last phone call came around 3 pm, when they stated their cellphone battery was getting low. Mr. Charlie provided the phone number for BSAR, State Troopers and the Coast Guard C-130 that was dispatched to the search area.
One of the phone calls was tracked by GCI, the regional communications carrier, and it was pinpointed in the general area of Atmautluak and Nunapitchuk. The "ping" was at least within 5 miles of the villages. The search then concentrated on this area for the rest of the afternoon and into the wee hours of the night, however, no sign of the boys were found and poor weather conditions kept visibility down to a minimum.
As of yesterday, the boys said they were okay and dry, and taking shelter inside a snowcave they had made to get out of the elements. A blinding blizzard howled through the area most of the day. Their snowmachine, which had run out of gas, was parked on a trail that had a trail marker nearby. But with limited visibility the boys couldn't figure out on what trail they were on. However, the boys were able to hear the search planes and chopper sent out to find them but couldn't see them either.
At one point, the boys, their father and BSAR personnel conducted a three-way discussion as to the possible whereabouts of their location. Several likely spots were then checked by ground crews but to no avail.
Last night, the Regional Coordination Center based out of Kodiak sent a Coast Guard C-130 with cellphone-locking and thermal-imaging capability in the evening to assist in the search. As the C-130 flew over the search area and teams looking for the boys, it dropped nearly a dozen flares and tried calling the boys' cellphone in an attempt to lock onto their location. The flares were visible from Bethel. The C-130 finally left around 1:30 am without any positive results and returned to its base.
As the evening worn on, some searchers and folks from Atmautluak reported seeing a light flickering on and off in the distance but south of the village, as if someone was attempting to start a snowmachine or was using the headlight of a snowmachine for signaling. Even though a snowmachine is out of gas, the headlight will come on momentarily when the starter rope is pulled hard enough. The area of the flickering light was investigated by both ground searchers and the C-130 but without results.
Search teams from BSAR, Akiachak, Napaskiak, Napakiak, Tuntutuliak, Atmautluak, Nunapitchuk, Kasigluk, Alaska State Troopers, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and Coast Guard were involved in yesterday's search. Some crews spent over 15 hours in the field.
The search is entering the third day, and it's not known how much snacks and fluids that the brothers brought, if any, and they are most likely needing food and water at this point to keep warm.
Temperatures are in the comfortable 20's today. BSAR is hopeful that with the much-improved weather and somewhat clearness of the day, the boys will be found today.
Search started for two brothers
On Jan. 28, 2013, two brothers Phillip Charlie, 18, and Sam Charlie, 16, went out ptarmigan hunting along the Atmautluak Trail and were last heard from around 4 pm by their dad Ray Charlie. They said they were a few miles out from the trail near some big lake.
Another report was that possibly from there they had seen the big "Golf Ball" by BIA and left the Atmautluak Trail to go toward it, and were asked to report in but they were not heard from since.
The two were riding on one snowmobile, a purple/black RMK 550. Phillip was wearing a black coat and bibs or pants, while Sam wore a blue coat and yellow bibs or pants. They had a full tank of gas when they left Bethel around 1:30 pm to go hunt ptarmigans.
A BSAR hasty crew went out after them soon after, but they had difficulty navigating in the storm. Another large BSAR crew left around 8:30 pm to continue looking for the two missing boys but the searches were not successful due to near 0-0 weather.
One BSAR crew went out early this morning to "grid" the area from the Golf Ball to the lowest southern portion of the Atmautluak Trail toward Napakiak. More BSAR crews will head out on the Atmautluak Trail and search north and south of the Trail.
Atmautluak, Nunapitchuk and Akiachak SARs have been activated and will assist in the search. An Alaska State Trooper plane and USFWS plane also provided air support at first light.
Togiak man found dead during search
On January 15, 2013, it was reported to the Alaska State Troopers that a man that had traveled to Manokotak from Togiak on January 13 was missing. Douglas Gamechuk, 43, could not be located in either Togiak or Manokotak when VPSOs in those towns began searching for him.
That evening on Jan. 15, Togiak and Manokotak SARs left their respective towns and began searching the trail between the villages, which are separated by about 48 miles (almost same as Akiachak to the Yukon River in a straight line). The SAR groups intended to meet along the trail.
During the search, Gamechuk's snowmachine was found around 35 miles from Manokotak and the gas tank was empty. The search continued through the night, and about 5:30 am on January 16, Gamechuk's remains were found some 4 or 5 miles from the snowmachine.
An autopsy has been requested by the State Medical Examiner. Next of kin have been notified. Temperatures were recorded at below zero at the time of the incident.
Kwethluk hunter loses snowmachine
Jan. 16, 2013 -- A Kwethluk hunter going moose hunting alone up toward the Yukon River lost his snowmachine Saturday, Jan. 12, when he fell through snow or ice while crossing on or over a narrow slough. The snowmachine was nearly or completely submerged in water. The hunter tried pulling his snow machine out, but to no avail. Instead, he ended up getting soaked.
Luckily other hunters were in the area and one was able to give the hunter a ride home. The snowmachine was left underwater. He was lucky in another sense because the weather wasn't cold. The weather was terrible, but it wasn't dangerously cold. If it was, he probably would have been injured or might have even perished.
We don't state his name here because it could have been anyone of us. What we mean is, PLEASE don't go hunting alone: Always pair up with another hunter or more when traveling long distances to hunt moose or caribou, or engaging in another activity such as going wooding or traveling to another distant village.
Couple rescued near Scammon Bay
On Wednesday last week, Jan. 9, 2013, a couple traveling from Scammon Bay to Mt. Village became the subjects of a search mission when bad weather moved into the area. Harry Aguchak, 29, of Scammon Bay, and Marlene Bell, 25, of Hooper Bay, left Scammon Bay at 4:00 am but apparently didn't make it to Mt. Village.
Later in the day, search parties from Scammon Bay and Mt. Village checked the trail, each traveling partway and returning without finding any sign of the two. The weather was too bad for the Alaska State Troopers to search by aircraft.
The next morning, a Scammon Bay search party went out again and found the couple about five miles from the village and brought them to Scammon Bay. They were seen at the clinic and released. The two reported that weather had turned bad on them and they had run out of gas too.
Nunap brothers fail to come home as planned
On December 26, 2012, two brothers failed to come home after going moose hunting at Devil's Elbow along the Yukon River, about 48 miles northeast from Nunapitchuk. Nunapitchuk VPSO Jacob Tobethluk reported to the Alaska State Troopers that Jonathon and Jarrett Mojin had gone out earlier that morning and were expected back that evening but didn't.
At nightfall, a hasty team was sent out to look for the brothers but couldn't find any sign of them due to poor weather conditions. The next day on December 27, ground searchers went out again and found the brothers just after noon about 15 miles north of the village. They were in good condition and just needed to be escorted back.
JAKE JOHNSON: A lifetime of SAR work
In November 2012, during the annual BSAR Fiddle Dance Fundraisier, Jake Johnson Sr. of Emmonak was recognized as Elder of the Year for his long work in SAR activities in the Lower Yukon River area.
Jake was born to Axel and Pearlie Johnson in the old hospital in Mt. Village and was raised in Kwiguk. He attended the Alaska Territorial School in St. Michael during the winters, while living with this grandparents Alex and Malorie Johnson. At St. Michael he learned to hunt from his uncle Harry Johnson Sr. of Unalakleet, and hunted and trapped all along the Norton Sound. During summers he returned to Kwiguk and worked for the Northern Commercial Company, while at the same time he did subsistence and commercial fishing for salmon.
In 1957, Jake went to Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka beginning with the 8th grade, and graduated in 1961. While in high school, he joined the Alaska National Guard. After high school, he married Eunice Hunter and the two made their home in Emmonak (Kwiguk was lost to erosion, and the residents resettled in Emmonak). Jake and Eunice have seven children: Vivian, Joe, Jake Jr., Don, Henry, Darlene and Beverly.
Jake started SAR work in 1963, after attending a one-week police training in Fairbanks after which he became the first policeman in Emmonak. Jake says his dad Alex told him when he was young that if anyone ever needed help, he should try help them and bring them home. SAR work at the time consisted of looking for people who went hunting, trapping or getting logs and didn't come home. Jake conducted SAR work alone most of the time using a Ski-Doo with a 10.5 hp Rotax engine, but he got help once in a while.
Over the years, the SAR group grew in size in Emmonak and Jake served as its leader. Their search area included communities up and down the Yukon River from Marshall to Nunam Iqua and Kotlik, and in all types of weather conditions all year long. Some of the searches took place in the Andreasky Hills on up to the St. Michaels area around Needle Mountain. One such search involved driving 800 miles by snowmachine in one week while looking for lost young men on the Yukon River. Searches along the coast would take a week or more, while those in the ocean depended on the tide and could last many days. During freeze-up or break-up, Jake and his sons, Don and Jake Jr., would go flying looking for lost or missing people.
The last SAR trip Jake took was three years ago when he turned 70. He had done SAR work for 50 years. Eunice, his wife, says that SAR teams continue to call for him but she tells them, "Let them younger guys do it now." Jake laughs at that and says, "If he's needed, he's ready to go." Today, both Jake and Eunice still go out by snowmachine or boat up and down the Yukon River or along the Bering Sea coast and to the mouth of the Yukon enjoying hunting for seal, whale or moose.
Jake thanks the City and Tribal Councils for providing needed supplies over the many years for SAR work. He also thanks the Alaska State Troopers for their plane searches out of St. Mary's and Bethel, and Robert Moore and Evan Uisok for being the other Elder Team Leaders over the years. Finally, Jake thanks everyone who've help SAR teams when they need help.
Jake's advice to people is to let others know when and where they are traveling to, and to be prepared for the trip both in summer and winter because weather is so unpredictable and could change quickly.
Bethel City Council honors Peter Atchak
On December 11, 2012, during a regular meeting of the Bethel City Council, Peter Atchak was honored at the Bethel Chambers with a Proclamation recognizing his long service to search and rescue efforts in Bethel and the Y-K Delta. Peter recently stepped down as BSAR President after serving for about 20 years, in order to tend to family health issues. "It's something that demands my whole focus, and I cannot have anything right now that draws my attention elsewhere," he said to BSAR members during a meeting in November, at the time when he tendered his resignation.
At the City Council meeting, Peter was asked to approach and stand before the seated Council, afterwhich the proclamation was read aloud by Mayor Joseph Klejka. When Mayor Klejka was done, the City Council and the administrative staff all rose to their feet and gave Peter a standing ovation. They were joined by the audience of about 20 citizens which were present to address the city council on other matters. "Thank you very much for your support," Peter responded. "Every little bit of support you give to Bethel Search and Rescue is truly appreciated. Not only to me, but to all the other members of Bethel Search and Rescue and the entire organization."
Mayor Klejka then presented the proclamation to Peter, who was shortly joined by his wife Mary at the podium. "I never thought anything like this would happen, this is so unexpected," Peter said at the end of the ceremony.
BSARs come to aid of downed plane near Bethel
Bethel, AK -- On Sunday evening, Nov. 25, 2012, a Yute Air plane lost its engine and landed on a lake "six miles from Bethel" near the Atmautluak Trail. Four people were aboard the plane and no injuries were reported.
After BSAR got the call, BSARs Mike Riley, on the Argo, and Mark Leary, on a snowmachine, went out to rescue and provide whatever help they could provide for the stranded people aboard the plane. Randy Turner also took off after them later to catch up.
Mark went a little faster than the Argo, and when he got to the six-mile mark, he tried calling the pilot via cellphone but couldn't make contact. So he kept going until he was at the 7.5-mile mark, and then climbed a hill to look around. The pilot apparently saw him then and turned on his navigation lights for Mark to see.
When Mark reached the plane, he first confirmed there were no injuries aboard but he did find a 4-year-old girl and her mom getting cold. So he gave them his parka while they waited for Mike to arrive on the Argo.
Mark said the plane had no propeller, but was otherwise undamaged. It had landed on a lake just south of the Atmautluak Trail.
Once Mike arrived, the BSARs decided Mark should take the little girl wrapped with blankets and the mom in his parka back to Bethel since he moved faster than the Argo. Mike and Randy brought the rest back to Bethel.
When Mark arrived at the trail head (at H-Marker Lake Road), two ambulances were waiting there to double-check for injuries and provide a warm place for the patients.
It was a great ending for all. Thanks to Mark, Mike and Randy for their quick response to the emergency!
New leadership at BSAR
On November 9, BSAR announced the new leadership as follows until the next elections:
Mike Riley, Acting President (was Vice President)
Hugh Snyder, Acting Vice President (was At-Large)
Bertha Chase, Treasurer
Allen Joseph, Acting Secretary (while Secretary Chris Ho is out-of-town)
A new At-Large member will be appointed shortly.
Peter Atchak steps down as BSAR President
BSAR President Peter Atchak is interviewed during the BSAR Headquarters Open House in June 2010
On November 8, 2012, BSAR President Peter Atchak stepped down as leader of the group by submitting his resignation during a regular meeting of the organization.
Peter cited the need to focus on family health issues as his reason for leaving his position as long time leader of BSAR.
The following statement is taken from Peter's resignation letter:
"I have regarded it a rare and privileged honor to have had opportunity to work with people that have a very high level of regard for other people's safety and welfare. By cooperating with each other and sharing each one's unique gifts have resulted in increased successful search and rescues and body recoveries. This I have observed over the years and look forward to more success."
Peter's leadership of BSAR spans nearly 20 years. Under his guidance, BSAR has grown from a small handful of loosely organized people to a formal organization with over 90 members. BSAR also has a large inventory of specialized search and rescue equipment and its own headquarters building.
This positive growth has allowed BSAR to provide assistance in search and rescue operations throughout the region -- and even at the statewide level, with Peter having participated directly in many of these searches. His unique leadership style has been a combination of traditional Yupik/Cupik values, knowledge and language that also recognizes the importance of incorporating modern technology to increase the effectiveness of search and rescue operations in our region.
Peter has brought our organization a long way and it was with deep regret that the BSAR Board of Directors and general membership accepted his resignation. Peter will however remain a BSAR member and we will continue to look to him for guidance.