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No sign of missing Missouri fisherman as search continues on Willow Creek

Zaz Hollander
Willow Creek, where 71-year-old Jerry Warner was last seen leaving on a solo fishing trip Sunday, is popular with anglers, but is cold and fast moving and has claimed lives before. National Weather Service photo

WASILLA -- Nearly 48 hours after 71-year-old Jerry Warner was last seen -- while he was walking up Willow Creek Sunday on a short solo fishing trip -- there was still no sign of the missing Missouri man. 

Warner, a visitor to Alaska described as an avid outdoorsman, said he'd be back in a few hours when he left the RV he shared with his girlfriend around 11 a.m. Sunday, troopers said. He took just a fishing rod and no survival gear or phone and was wearing a green camouflage cap, gray raincoat and green chest waders. 

People at Willow Creek Resort near mile 70 of the Parks Highway -- that's where the pair was camping -- say Warner headed off upstream in search of trout but may have turned back and gone downstream for salmon. 

Search efforts halted overnight for darkness but resumed again Tuesday morning with dogs trained to perform water searches and the support of Warner's daughter and granddaughter, who arrived Monday night. 

"The boats left to go back upstream 20 minutes ago," said Meghan Dean, daughter of the resort's owners, when she answered the phone at 9:30 a.m. "They're organized and they're doing their mission."

A heavy fog early Tuesday morning dissipated within a few hours, Dean said.  

A troopers helicopter that flew the area between Willow-Fishhook Road and the creek on Monday afternoon was scheduled to fly Tuesday once the fog cleared, troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said. 

Ipsen estimated there were 25 to 30 searchers out Tuesday including people on rafts floating the creek in hopes of spotting a sign of Warner.

On Monday, dozens of people and a number of dogs combed the water and banks of the creek that's popular with anglers but fast-flowing, debris-strewn and cold enough to take lives. Forty or more searchers combed Willow Creek and heavy brush along its banks looking for Warner, according to the Mat-Su Borough's Willow fire and rescue department. 

Searchers included as many as eight dogs from MATSAR, a volunteer search-and-rescue nonprofit, as well as borough emergency service volunteers on the ground, a troopers helicopter, and rescue boats from the Mat-Su dive team. Alaska Search and Rescue volunteers joined the search Monday afternoon with additional dogs. 

The initial report that Warner was overdue came in at 7:34 p.m. Sunday, troopers say.

Mat-Su responders got a call from the Wasilla-based dispatch center for the troopers less than an hour later and sent a rescue rig and ambulance from Willow, as well as the more centrally located dive team. 

Mat-Su officials say the creek is running several feet below flood stage. But Willow Creek, like other Parks Highway streams, can be unforgiving. A 38-year-old Anchorage man died in August 2007 while fishing the creek. His body was found underwater near a logjam, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

A 28-year-old Wasilla gold miner died in the creek in June 2012 after he lost his footing and drowned, held underwater by the heavy weights worn to hold him in place as he worked a suction dredge, Alaska Dispatch reported.

Contact Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com.