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Family of missing French adventurer thinks he could be alive, hiking in Katmai park

Jerzy Shedlock
Francois Guenot at the home of Glen Neilsen in Kokhanok. Photo courtesy Glen Neilsen

Two family members of a French adventurer missing in Alaska for more than two months have traveled thousands of miles in hopes of finding some, if any, clues about his disappearance. They think there’s a chance Francois Guenot is hiking in the area of Katmai National Park and Preserve due to important survival items missing from recovered belongings.

Philippe and Robert Guenot -- Francois’ brother and father, respectively -- currently are hunkered down in Homer. A friendly local pilot opened his household to the men, and they’ve been staying there for two weeks.

When the men arrived in Alaska in early July, U.S. Coast Guard personnel ushered them to an airport side room and showed them two boxes filled with Francois’ belongings.

On June 20, the Coast Guard reported that Katmai park rangers found a kayak believed to have belonged to Francois Guenot on a beach about 12 miles south of Cape Douglas, along the Shelikof Strait. A waterproof bag with some identification in it was found 3 miles south of the kayak.

Philippe and Robert Guenot are more concerned with what’s missing than what was found. The men said, through an interpreter, that Francois carried a backpack full of supplies and other items on his trip along the cape.

Those items included a camera, knife, blue tarp, safety vest, compass, fishing pole and maps of the area. He also was carrying a casserole, they said. He would be lacking a sleeping bag, however.

“None of those things were found,” Philippe Guenot said through the interpreter. “Only the broken kayak, which he’d already used for hundreds of miles.”

Francois Guenot began popping up in villages that dot the shores of Lake Iliamna in Southwest Alaska last fall. He told locals he had rambled across Canada and through much of the state on salvaged bicycles, canoes and his feet.

He said he had crossed Cook Inlet in a makeshift kayak created from two broken ones he salvaged in Seldovia. He was trying to make his way to the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia from the village of Kokhanok on the south shore of giant Iliamna Lake, the eighth-largest in the U.S.

But the 32-year-old Guenot chose to go overland from the village to Kamishak Bay on the wild north coast of Katmai National Park and Preserve. He was last seen there on May 26 at Amakdedori Creek, about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Seldovia -- a community of about 250 on the Kenai Peninsula -- is where the family members met the Homer pilot. They said villagers who met Guenot contended if he did in fact make it to dry land with the supplies, there’s a chance he’s alive. So the missing man's father and brother are holding out hope.

They’ve paid the pilot for fuel to fly them over certain areas Francois traveled. No signs -- the most visible of which would be an orange T-shirt wrapped around the adventurer’s head or the blue tarp -- were spotted. Now, Francois’ family is asking Alaska State Troopers to step up and offer search-and-rescue assets.

On Monday, Philippe and Robert Guenot planned to meet with a King Salmon-based trooper and argue their case for an extended ground search. According to the men, the Coast Guard found a journal along with the waterproof bag. Its last entry, on June 15, indicated Francois was on Cape Douglas and preparing to depart in the kayak. He reported the weather as cloudy and windy, according to the family.

The Coast Guard focused its search efforts on the cape’s waters due to the journal entry, they said. And thanks to the language barrier, no one told the Guenots they should file a missing-person report with the troopers.

Still, they said the troopers seem reluctant. Francois wrote that final journal entry six weeks ago.

“Nobody truly knows, right?” Philippe said. “The hope is that he’s hiking and it’s puzzling why none of the other items were found.”

When asked if the meeting occurred and whether the troopers were planning a new ground search, spokesperson Megan Peters said Francois “is in the missing-person clearinghouse.” She said troopers assisted on the prior search.

“AST has no current plans to start up another active search. The information we have suggests that the man was lost at sea,” Peters said.

The interpreter contacted two Bush pilots who were flying tourists around the area Monday and told them to keep a lookout for the orange and blue items amid vast swaths of greenery. A lodge owner has been called as well.

Correction: This article originally quoted troopers spokesperson Megan Peters as saying that Francois Guenot was not in the missing persons clearinghouse. Peters actually said Guenot is listed in the clearinghouse.