Day four search was canceled due to the unsafe travel conditions. The 22 mile ice road is covered with a lot of water. I never knew that there is no roadway to connect many of the city and villages. There only ground transportation route is by the river system. In the summer it is by boat and winter it is by vehicles on the ice. Supplies are brought in on the river or flown in. This explains the high prices for everything here. All the villages have an air strip for travel.
I have spent most of my time traveling with retired Trooper/tour guide Perry Barr. He has been sharing his Alaskan heritage and I’m learning so much about a state that I only heard of its beautiful landscape. He invited in his home, introduced his family and shared so many keep sakes with us.
We dropped Sonia off to the airport for her flight home. Sonia had offered to come up from Canada to help out in our search. She has her own Medical business with extensive experience in wildness survival. She paid her own way to help out Bruce’s Legacy in our quest to give closure to these people involved. A big Thank You and it was a pleasure to have her here.
Another local SAR member that goes by Mano stopped by this morning. He is an airplane mechanic for the State Forestry Dept and helped arrange for us to bunk up at their facility. He showed me pictures of his family and shared how he get his firewood to heat his home. They travel by boat to an area where they cut dead dry trees (they float better). Leaves them in long lengths and lays them in the water to form a barge around his boat. He then lays smaller trees crossways and nails them with long spikes to hold everything together. He is then able to maneuver this down the river. He was also proud to say that hunting and collecting firewood was a family event. With three daughters and one just married he is hoping that his next two sons in law are a strong as his first. His knowledge has been so beneficial to my success each day we have ran into the hurdles out at the site. He is an amazing man!
Just when I was worried that I was not going to get out on the site, the Bethel SAR reached out to the Alaska State Troopers to fly a few of us and my equipment to the nearest village. Then we will be taking snowmobiles to the site.
The rivers are our worst areas to conduct underwater searches. There is so much debris from years of falling trees in the water. These make for snag areas and difficult areas to search. Then you have the current that can move items down river. Then add near 0 visibility to this and try to locate and object. Now throw a shelf of ice over all that and add cold, rain, snow and wind.
I hope tomorrow will be the day!
I just found out that they have given me the nick name “The Wizard of Oz” as I travel around in my office.
We were told that it was tradition, your first time on the river you need to rub snow on the top of your head for safe travels on the ice road. All were standing around and a with a lot of laughs. I then got the feeling I had been had…
The day starts with a briefing at the Bethel SAR
The day starts with a home cooked meal at the SAR Headquarters followed with a briefing. With all the rain from overnight and yesterday made for a skating rink everywhere. Loading gear I found that I don’t bounce as well as I used to. They were able to come up with an ice rescue sled so I could set up my office on it and get back into the area that I was the first day. Ice has been deteriorating with the warm temp and rain. The 22 mile ice road trip is now like a flooded road with water as deep as 6″ and took much longer to get out to search site. Today is the 17th day and it is taking a toll on the SAR team and volunteers. Many have been taking off of work with some getting sick I hear.
I set up my gear on a device that is normally used in thin ice rescues. We have one on our team back home and have recently set that one up for this type of search but have not had the chance to try it out yet. We were lucky to have the local fire department loan us theirs for the day making it much safer to get back into the area of interest.
I have not posted a lot of details out of respect for the families and all involved. But the word is out and feel I can give a bit more. We did locate three possible targets on day one. They have put drop cameras to verify the two targets. Now what you may not understand is the difficulties that they are challenged with. This river has created two to four feet of slush under the ice. I have made over a 100 dives under the ice in lakes and rivers and have never encountered this. This slush makes it difficult to work with drop cameras and the drag bar method that they are using. These people run fish nets under the ice and are accustomed to working with lines and such under the ice. I have learned a great deal from all of this. I’m confident that they will be successful in their mission. You have to understand that this has to be one the toughest type of recovery operation one could encounter.
The support I have received from everyone here and back home is exactly why I keep doing this. The Alaska State Troopers have graciously allowed me to stay longer by pushing back my flight so I can see this through.
The ice road now has 2-6″ of water on it
One of the SAR team heading out on their ATV
Villager working with the drop camera
My office for day three with the team looking over my sonar data
Bethel’s SAR member Mark pulling me over the ice.
I kneel on this looking down onto the computer screen. This worked out very well.
Reviewed the data from day 1 search provided some areas of interest. We met at the Bethel SAR Headquarters with a home cooked meal and a briefing. Headed out to the search site which take close to an hour on the ice road. We have been so fortunate to have Perry (a recently retired Alaska State Trooper) transport our equipment. I’m learning a great deal about the local culture and find this an amazing area to live. Upon arrival of the search site and meat up with more villagers, each day begins with a briefing followed by a prayer. I have had many of the local searchers jump into the trailer (my ice office) to view the images as we are being pulled along the top of the ice.
Today we had a man bring out a four wheeler to plow off the snow and this provided a much smoother surface, allowing for much clearer images. We were able to work a much bigger area. The bad part was the ice near the open water where I needed to be is becoming unsafe because of the rain and warming temperature. With each hurdle we have had here these guys keep coming up with ways around them and make it happen for me. Their determination to find these members of their community are truly amazing.
The wind blew and it rained most of the day and well into the night. The ice road on the way back to Bethel is now covered with water. Tomorrow search brings yet more hurdles from the weather. The forecast for day three is for more rain.
For more info you can check out http://kusko.net/bsar/
My ice office being pulled by a new track machine.
I believe these guys will cut a slot all the way to the Behring Sea if I asked them too.
Showing some of the local SAR team what I see on the sonar
Started off with a home made breakfast served at the Bethel SAR followed by a briefing. Traveled 22 miles down river on the ice road to the search site. Met by the local villagers that were already working on clearing ice. I would guess we had around 100 people throughout the day helping. We where even visited by the local State Representative and his wife that also was involved in the approval for our travel reimbursement. Now I don’t believe we would see that in our lower 48. Had many challenges to work through. They had to clear more ice off for us to use the trailer that we used for keeping computer equipment warm. We hung the sonar off the back of trailer down through the ice to be towed by a four-wheeler 3-5 mph. It was to bumpy to get good images and them one of the villagers suggested the large sleds they had they put under the tires which worked out very well. As we ran into other hurdles trough out the day the locals always came up with a way to fix it. It was truly an honor to work with these people as we jumped many hurdles today. We worked into the dark then packed up for the 45 minute ice road trip back to Bethel. When we arrived back at the headquarters they had a potluck supper laid out with many dishes. I happen to like fish so I fit in well and enjoyed. I will review what we have for images tonight and make a plan for tomorrows search.
Ice road to search site
Search Site, ariel photo
Bob’s ice sled put to the challange
Bob’s ice sled at work
Sonia Clark from Canada and Alaska State Trooper Wood. He was my point of contact to make this happen.
My office on wheels
The sonar off the back and down through the ice to be towed near the bottom.
Clearing ice for the sonar
Below is the article from the Bethel Sar website about a search near Kwethluk on theKuskoquak Slough. So far there have been no new developments and Keith is packed and ready to go north, flying out Friday. Keith is anxious to lend a helping hand and share some knowledge about working searches on the ice. It’s very different from using the sonar on open water. A tremendous amount of more planning, assistance and equipment are involved to create clear, sonar images.
Day 11 started with rain and snow mixed and a new hope for the recovery of those still lost. As about 35 people worked tirelessly around auger holes and new trenches strung along the ice, the feeling was not of despair, but of optimism and a knowledge of traditional beliefs that soon..soon…. both who have been missing will be brought to their families. But also knowing that the belief of wishing for something to intently, may not occur. And realizing if one talks of anything else besides the current mission, success is more likely. All part of a belief long ingrained in cultural understanding.
Day 11 ended without new developments and no new clues….
The Kwethluk crew surrounding a large hole in the ice today talked of returning on Christmas Day and the need to continue on and of upcoming techniques that they can try. Places they may have missed or of people that may have not searched in specific areas. Talk of the upcoming new techniques with the sonar machine expected to arrive the day after Christmas was discussed with a desire to bring closure. Many also spoke of the volunteers who have been helping and the need for more people to assist to complete the trenches needed for the sonar, and the thankfulness of the food that supporters have been providing.
The Christmas season is here and the celebration of a new beginning is upon us all. We pray for all in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta to be safe as they travel to visit families and friends. We, the BSAR family wish to remind everyone traveling to always file a travel plan with friends, relatives and or your local VPSO or law enforcement. We also wish everyone the joys of Christmas, the happiness of families, and the kinship we all share.
Our next search takes us to Bethel Alaska on Dec 26th for a 3000 mile journey. Three young community members went missing while traveling on a four-wheeler and believe to be in the river. One has been recovered with two still missing.
For the full story click on this link. http://kusko.net/bsar/
I will be giving updates in hopes to give the family and community the closure they so deserve.