Body of missing Nome fisherman, 74, found in river

thanlon@adn.comBy XXXXJanuary 10, 2014 

The body of a Nome man was found partially submerged in icy water Thursday after about 70 people patrolled the Nome River looking for the overdue ice fisherman, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Frank Okleasik, 74, was a knowledgeable outdoorsman, according to his family, but snowy conditions Wednesday made navigating the waterway difficult, said Beth Ipsen, troopers spokeswoman. "He went out quite often by himself but he always came home at 3 p.m.," she said.

When he didn't return on time Wednesday, family members grew alarmed. One went out looking for him and located his truck about four miles from town off Beam Road at Mile 4 near the Nome River, Ipsen said.

"(The family member) saw footprints leading to the river," she said. "We were notified soon after that."

On Thursday, an extensive ground and water search was launched. About 35 people on snowmachines, an R-44 helicopter with two searchers and a small boat with an underwater camera all set out to find Okleasik, troopers said.

At 3 p.m., 32 people walked downstream along the banks of the river. Two hours later, Nome search-and-rescue volunteers spotted a stick poking out of a snow- and ice-covered river very close to the Nome River that led them to Okleasik's body.

"He was kind of found in this hole and it looked like he was trying to get out," Ipsen said.

The metal spikes of an ice stick can be dug into the surface and used as leverage to escape from collapsed ice.

Ipsen said the current was strong in the waterway where Okleasik fell through ice. Troopers said it appeared a layer of snow covered the ice and an air pocket sat between the ice and the water below.

Okleasik was submerged up to his chest in water. He was pronounced dead at the scene, troopers said. Foul play is not suspected, and Okleasik's body has been sent to the State Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy, according to troopers.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.

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