About a dozen snowmachines drifted off into the Bering Sea near the coastal village of Kwigilngok when a large chunk of ice broke off and drifted to sea.
It was an otherwise normal day of seal hunting when about 12 hunters were alerted their snowmachines were adrift roughly three miles from shore on an ice flow that had broke off.
“Those who went home ahead of us spotted them, we called them on the VHF’s to ask if they got home, then we hurried home once alerted that the snowmachines were 3 miles from shore. Then we brought them back to shore by boat,” says Kwigilngok seal hunter Johnny Andrew Jr.
Village rescuers pulled one snowmachine out of the salt water. Another machine had already disappeared under the ice.
Andrew speculates the reason for the incident was caused by increased wave activity causing the ice to break off. Also, sleds might have dragged the snowmachines off the ice due to the drag from drifting in the currents.
Seal hunting in the spring is known for it’s many hazards. The most significant considered the unpredictable nature of the sea and wavy conditions even in calm weather. Conditions that can get the best of even the most experienced of hunters.
“Since I’ve been hunting and traveling as a boy, I was repeatedly told that in the spring, the sea is wavy even when there’s no wind, breaking the ice even though it’s thick. The sea doesn’t tell you what it’s going to do, even on a good day, there are many dangers, even the most experienced hunters run into hardships from time to time. We talk about it but you can’t completely avoid hardships, that’s the way it’s always been,” says Kwigilngok elder Roland Phillip.
Since the incident, the Kwigilngok River opened up. Giving hunters a safer, more direct approach to seal hunting.