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.
A scene from the past