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Sitka Coast Guard rescues hypothermic hunter, one man still missing

Laurel Andrews

An abandoned boat found drifting aimlessly in the Behm Canal roughly 40 miles Northeast of Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska sparked a rescue search for two hunters on Sunday. One of the men was found wandering in the woods in a severely hypothermic state, while his hunting partner remains missing, having disappeared nearly a week ago after shuttling off in a seven-foot skiff.

The two men had been on a hunting trip for a few days and had successfully landed a bear when the disaster began. The still-missing hunter, identified as 25-year-old Garrett Hagan from the town of Craig, took the fresh game on a seven-foot skiff down the Chickamin River to deliver to a larger boat, the 44-foot vessel Abundance, that was moored in the Behm Canal. He never came back.

“We don’t know if he ever made it there,” said Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Ryan Erickson.

The other hunter, Adrian Knopps, 51, from Michigan, remained behind, stranded at the hunting cabin without any way to call for help. Seven days passed.

At some point during those seven days, Knopps watched from shore as the 44-foot vessel Abundance somehow came unmoored in the Behm Canal.

“He watched it float away,” Erickson said. It was likely moored too far out in the canal to swim to, Erickson said.

Passersby in the vessel Wilderness Adventure found the empty vessel Abundance floating near Saks Cove on Sunday morning and alerted the Coast Guard, who began a search and rescue operation.

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Sitka found Knopps wandering in the woods, in a state of severe hypothermia, whom Erickson described as a “pretty lost individual” after having been stuck in the woods for a week. He was medevaced to Ketchikan for emergency medical services. The condition of the hunter was unknown on Sunday.

Hagan remains missing. His situation is dire, Erickson said.

“It’s one of those horrible, horrible cases.”

The Coast Guard continues to search for Hagan during stormy weather. “We have high winds and rain in the area and he may have been exposed to the elements for several days,” said Petty Officer Melanie Sinclair, an operations specialist and search and rescue controller. Most of Southeast Alaska was under gale warning on Sunday evening.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com