Bethel Search and Rescue has ended its participation in the search for Nick Cooke and Jim Lee Napoka due to deteriorating weather conditions and the coming freeze up. KYUK’s Ben Matheson reports:
Bethel Search and Rescue reports more ice floating past upriver villages. Ice chunks have also seen in Bethel. With freeze up close on the horizon, Bethel Search and Rescue made the call to bring back crews before ice conditions make travel dangerous.
The search is winding down very fast, but there were new assets in use this weekend: The specially trained search dogs Maro and Ruger, plus their handlers from Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs went out Sunday. Earl Samuelson is a pilot for troopers who flew with the team to the mouth of the Kialik river. He says the dogs picked up on a couple scents during a break in the weather.
“There were some possible areas they could focus on in the water. They picked up a couple areas of interest that they could go in and drag the area. Not to say that they’re there or not, they were just of interest,” said Samuelson.
Crews from Tuntuliak will be checking out the areas of interest, but the Bethel based crews have returned to town. Bethel Search and Rescue Chief Mike Riley says there were more than 70 people on site at one point doing water and land searches, on top of extensive air surveys with two airplanes.
“They gave all their efforts in trying to find to two boys down in the Tuntutuliak area,” said Riley. “I want to extend all my thanks to ALL searchers from throughout the area: Kwethluk, Akiachak, Napakiak, Napaskiak, Tuntutuliak, Tuluksak, Eek, Kasigluk. and I’d like to say a big thank you for all efforts.”
Crews camped on site for at least 9 days and went into Tuntutuliak during the bad weather. Samuelson says completing such a thorough search requires great coordination among all parties.
“My hat goes off to all the searchers out there, people who went out on land and water and helped with the air searches. When something of this magnitude happens, it brought a lot of people together and it worked out well. We were hoping for better circumstances, but it’s the way it works out sometimes and we have no control over that,” said Samuelson.
Nick Cooke and Jim Lee Napoka were last heard from three weeks ago on October 22nd. They were headed to Tuntutuliak for a funeral and never made it.