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Rural Alaska

Another snowmachiner dead in Southwest Alaska after a crash into open water

BETHEL - Authorities in Western Alaska say two people died this month in separate incidents after falling into open water while driving snowmachines.

The deaths of Joseph Kernak and 41-year-old Eric Phillips during the week of March 10 were the result of driving snowmachines over unmarked areas of water in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Tuesday.

Kernak and his girlfriend, Minnie White, drove into water near a lake while returning home after watching basketball games in Bethel on March 10, police said.

The pair became soaked in below freezing temperatures and White tried to walk to safety.

“She tried to persuade the boyfriend to start walking toward (Tuntutuliak), but the boyfriend didn’t want to listen,” said tribal police officer Andrew Frank said.

She was found a few hours later by people who alerted search and rescue volunteers, Frank said.

The volunteers discovered Kernak barely responsive early March 11 and brought him to a nearby community, where he succumbed to hypothermia, Frank said.

A few days after Kernak’s death, authorities said, they found Phillips’ body in a swampy area on the Kuskokwim River after a damaged snowmobile was spotted nearby.

Warmer temperatures have reportedly weakened ice on the Kuskokwim River, the main travel route for area residents.

These are the first deaths related to travelers falling into open water in the Lower Kuskokwim area this winter, according to authorities.

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