Almost a year after 53-year-old Gerald DeBerry disappeared into the White Mountains about 70 miles north of Fairbanks, the first clue about his disappearance has turned up. A miner hiking near Faith Creek Mine, off 69 Mile of the Steese Highway, stumbled upon DeBerry's green, Yahama Kodiak four-wheeler over Labor Day weekend.
The four-wheeler was found stuck in the tundra. Alaska State Troopers said it was turned off. Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters speculated to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that it was stuck "at an angle that would indicate to us that the gas wasn't getting sucked up, and it probably stalled out.''
The News-Miner reported two troopers and five volunteers searched the area around DeBerry's four-wheeler, but found no sign of him. At the time of DeBerry's disappearance, friends said he wasn't in the best of shape and might have had trouble if forced to hike far.
DeBerry disappeared as a search for a woman missing in the area was ending. DeBerry had joined those searching. When the woman was found, it was discovered he was missing. An extensive search followed. Six aircraft were involved, including Alaska Air National Guard helicopters with sophisticated heat-detecting search equipment. Nobody found a hint of DeBerry.
Search and rescue officials say what happened underlines the difficulty of spotting missing people from the air in the rugged terrain of Alaska. Unless the missing can signal in some way, they become extremely difficult to find. A runner who disappeared on Mount Marathon near Seward during the famous July 4 foot race this summer remains missing. An extensive air and ground search found no sign of 66-year-old Michael LeMaitre. His family continues to cling to the hope his body will be found as the grass starts to die and the leaves fall from the trees exposing more terrain on the lower mountain.