UPDATE, Friday, 8:30 am: The group was rescued Thursday evening by the US Coast Guard and is currently recovering at Nome hospital, according to Pilot Station Search and Rescue.
Seven hunters, including a child, from Pilot Station have been stranded in a fishing camp for a week. The group was heading upstream after the fall seal hunt. They found themselves stranded outside the community of Emmonak on the Yukon River on their way home.
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It is traditional for hunters from lower Yukon River villages to travel to the coast in the fall to hunt seals to store their freezers for the winter. Especially this year, since the subsistence fishery for most salmon species was closed after the Yukon River saw a massive chum collapse.
Normally, hunters can get to the coast and return home at this time of year without any problems, but former pilot station mayor Abraham Kelly said winter has crept in on them this time. year.
âIt got cold a lot faster than we thought,â Kelly said.
As the hunters moved up the river, ice began to form on the water. Right after Emmonak, they couldn’t go any further. Four of the seven hunters volunteered for the local search and rescue service at Pilot Station, so they knew they needed to contact the nearby Emmonak search and rescue service from their inReach device. According to Emmonak Search and Rescue, the hunters have indicated their location and the Emmonak group directed them to the nearest fishing camp.
The hunters were forced to stop their boat on Friday. Between what they brought and what was in the fishing camp, they had enough to eat and stay warm for several days. But according to Alaska State Troopers, the weather quickly turned foggy and turbulent, and it was too risky to land a plane. Sunday – day three – the soldiers were able to steal food, supplies and medicine needed by one of the hunters in the group.
The group must be rescued by plane because the river and the land paths are not yet frozen enough for snowmobiles or other vehicles. The whole area is off the road network.
Back at Pilot Station, the leader of the local search and rescue group, Paul Fancyboy, had learned that his friends and his second in command were stranded near Emmonak. He feared that no one had saved them yet. So on Monday – day four – he said he called Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office. He reached an assistant.
“He said he was taking notes and was going to give them to the governor,” Fancyboy said. “I wouldn’t know why he didn’t remind me why it took so long for these guys to be rescued.”
Fancyboy said the governor never called him back. The governor’s office said it provided Fancyboy with another number to call.
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The next day, day five, the soldiers attempted to evacuate the group with a fixed-wing aircraft. But according to an Emmonak Search and Rescue spokesperson, the pilot was unable to land due to a strong crosswind. The spokesperson said the men were starting to worry that it had been five days and that no one had picked them up yet.
Emmonak Search and Rescue coordinated another food drop, this time the food was donated by the local AC store and the village store and the flight was donated by Grant Aviation. The delivery included a charger for the hunters’ inReach satellite. The group uses it to communicate with Emmonak Search and Rescue. The atmosphere at the camp briefly improved, and the weather was shaping up to be fine for the next day.
Emmonak Search and Rescue told the hunters to pack their equipment and prepare. The US Coast Guard helicopter in Nome was preparing to retrieve them.
But Wednesday – day six – the helicopter never came. Time has turned again, according to Kelly.
âFinally, they were going to pick them up yesterday morning and then that fog came back again so they canceled Nome’s helicopter,â Kelly said.
He said another fog bank had descended on Thursday and the Coast Guard confirmed it had yet to be able to get the boaters.
On Thursday, Emmonak Search and Rescue was working on coordinating a third food drop, but Kelly was concerned about the group’s ability to warm up.
âThey’re running out of firewood,â Kelly said. “They need firewood to keep warm, so we’re a little worried about them now.”
Fancyboy, the pilot station’s search and rescue official, said the whole village was worried about the hunters. He said the youngest in the group is an elementary school kid who is missing school this week. Fancyboy said he was frustrated.
âI don’t know what’s taking them so long,â he said. “It’s not acceptable.”
A spokesperson for Emmonak Search and Rescue also asked why government rescue agencies are taking so long to recover hunters.
A helicopter did not come Thursday – day seven – either, but it could do so on Friday.
According to a report from soldiers, the Coast Guard helicopter in Nome was unable to take off Thursday due to mechanical issues, and no private helicopters were available in the area to help. The Soldiers say two US Army helicopters from Fort Wainwright are heading to the area and plan to retrieve the group on Friday.