Bethel search and rescue ended their efforts last weekend in the long search to find Nick Cooke of Bethel and Jim Lee Napoka of Tuluksak. KYUK’s Ben Matheson reports:
The search lasted over two weeks and involved over 70 people at one point. Ana Hoffman is Nick’s sister. She says the family is extremely grateful for the search and rescue volunteers.
“They have helped us to come to terms with what has happened and have helped us accept their fate. And everybody’s prayers for the families and for the searchers, we appreciate everyone’s prayers and concern,” said Hoffman.
The family has not set a funeral date. She says the family will announce a date when they are ready. Hoffman says Nick had a lot of friends up and down the river. She says he was kind and always ready to lend a hand.
“He like to give fish away to elders, and I know many people mentioned that he would always bring them whitefish, lush, I know he’d bring different things he’d catch to a number of families in town. He was generous in that way,” said Hoffman.
Cooke is survived by his wife Shannon and two children: Justine and Ethan. Rachel Sallaffie is Jim Lee Napoka’s sister, both grew up in Tuluksak. She says the search has been tough.
“I gave him up to God a couple three or four days ago. I kept expecting them to be found good. After Ana and I talked, I gave him up to God and hope all of my family did too,” said Sallaffie.
Napoka was raised by grandparents and aunts and uncles. Napoka was married to Lorraine and had two kids: Curtis and Baby Girl. Sallaffie says he most enjoying spending time with his relatives and friends. He’d go hunting and share the food he brought in.
“He loved to travel. He had many friends along the Yukon Kuskokwim,” said Sallaffie.
The family has not set a date for a memorial service. Sallaffiee expresses her gratitude for the many searchers. Hoffman says they’ve been part of the healing process.
“I’ve always known that the search and rescue volunteers we had in this area were our local heroes. Having had this experience now within my immediate family, I cannot express the amount of love and appreciation we have for the search and rescue team and the amount of dedication they put into the entire effort,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman says she’s received a lot of questions about how to help. She says the best way is by supporting the volunteer search and rescue crews. Searchers from more than 9 communities took part in the long search. Bethel Search and Rescue says Tuntutuliak crews will continue to look until ice makes it impossible.