National Guard rescues overdue Koliganek snowmachiner

Tegan Hanlon

A lost Koliganek snowmachiner was rescued by Alaska National Guard airmen early Thursday morning, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Devan McDowell, 25, left Koliganek, a small community near Dillingham in southwestern Alaska, around 2 p.m. Wednesday, destined for Levelock, a village about 45 miles south, troopers said.

McDowell had planned to travel on the Nushagak River toward New Stuyahok before hopping on the Levelock trail and continuing to the village, troopers said. Typically, the trip takes about five hours, said Megan Peters, troopers spokeswoman.

But a concerned family member called authorities around 9 p.m. when McDowell hadn't reached his destination.

Village public safety officers told troopers there were recent reports of open areas of water on the Nushagak River and there wasn't a trail on the waterway.

"Weather wasn't bad," Peters said. "The problem was it was fresh powder and no trail was established. He had made the trip before but there was a defined trail those times."

A small group of searchers from the community traveled on snowmachines between New Stuyahok and Levelock in search of McDowell, but could not find him or any tracks, troopers said.

At 10:50 p.m., troopers requested assistance from the Alaska National Guard. The guard sent a HC-130 King aircraft and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter to search for McDowell.

They located McDowell about five miles east of Koliganek around 5 a.m. Thursday. He was picked up by helicopter, flown back to Koliganek and turned over to troopers, according to Sgt. Edward Eagerton, spokesman for the Alaska National Guard.

Peters said McDowell was "completely disoriented" when found.

"The fresh snow, in addition to loss of daylight, made it hard for him to determine his location," Peters said. "When he saw lights in the distance he didn't realize which village he was seeing then got even more turned around."

Eagerton said McDowell was in good condition and did not need any medical attention.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at or 257-4589.