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Bethel searchers find body of snowmachiner missing a week

Casey Grove

Bethel-based searchers on Wednesday found the body of a missing villager who abandoned his snowmachine on a trip from Akiachak to the Yukon River about a week earlier.

Volunteers with Bethel Search and Rescue found Harvey Pitka, a 32-year-old Russian Mission resident, about 30 miles north of Bethel and more than six miles from his snowmachine, Alaska State Troopers said. According to a written statement from troopers, Pitka and 53-year-old Marshall resident Raymond Marth were reported missing March 6 when they failed to show up at either of their home villages.

According to the Bethel searchers' website, BethelSAR.org, the volunteers looked for the two men between the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and found a snow cave Marth had apparently built to stay warm. In the days that followed, troopers searched from above in an airplane. Someone found Pitka's snowmachine, a Yamaha, on Woodcutter's Trail about 30 miles northwest of Bethel on Thursday, troopers said. On Sunday, a snowmachiner picked up Marth while he was walking to Kalskag, the search group said.

"Marth said he left Pitka on the Ohagamiut Trail (from Akiachak) around 2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6," the search group's website says. "Both men were running low on gas so he traveled eastward until his snowmachine (the Arctic Cat) ran out of gas."

Marth told the searchers Pitka was wearing two sweaters, mittens and boots but did not have a coat or hat, the Bethel search group said. On Wednesday, the volunteers found Pitka's body.

"The (search) crews were able to find Pitka by following a set of footprints that faded in and out on top of snow," the group's website says. "He had walked a little more than five miles from his snowmachine before he came to rest in a patch of brush and tried to make shelter. Evidence at the scene suggests that he had gotten wet and hung socks to dry on nearby branches. However, he was not dressed for the weather and appeared to have succumbed to the elements while in his shelter."

The searchers brought Pitka's body to troopers in Bethel, and it was to be flown to Anchorage and taken to the state medical examiner's office, troopers said.

Marth was again reported missing on Wednesday, the Bethel search group said. Marth, three men and his 9-year-old son ran out of gas while on a trip to recover his snowmachine and other items, the group said. Someone from the group contacted the village of Marshall, and while there were plans to deliver fuel to them, the search group said it was unaware Thursday if the delivery had taken place.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.


By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com