Rural Alaska

Military rescuers wait for break in weather to reach stranded Yukon River hunters

For a week now, a party of seven hunters has been hunkered down at a sparse camp roughly 20 miles east of the Yukon River community of Emmonak. Ice conditions on the river forced the boaters to shore last Friday, where they have been stuck since, with bad weather standing in the way of rescue efforts.

According to Cyril Jones, who lives in the region, the party boated down to the Bering Sea from Pilot Station, more than 100 river-miles inland.

“They came down to our coast to go hunt seals in our ocean,” Jones said from Emmonak.

Ice conditions along the Yukon are too thin for snowmachine or truck travel, but too thick for boating, Jones said.

Requests for comment from multiple city, tribal, and Search and Rescue officials in Emmonak and Pilot Station were either declined or unanswered.

Military assets staged around the state are poised to launch and ferry the hunting party to Emmonak. A U.S. Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter is in Nome but remains grounded because of “heavy weather,” according to Petty Officer Ali Blackburn.

As of Thursday, the plan had shifted, with two U.S. Army helicopters from Fort Wainwright in the Interior traveling to the region Thursday afternoon and intending to extract the group on Friday morning.

“The weather isn’t the greatest en route from Fairbanks to Emmonak,” said Master Sgt. Evan Budd, the superintendent with the Alaska Air National Guard’s Alaska Rescue Coordination Center. “We’re just trying to wait out the weather a little bit.”

They plan on evacuating the stranded party to Emmonak, unless there is a medical emergency requiring immediate care.

“They have food. And nobody’s reported being injured or sick,” Budd said. Since last week, the hunters have been in touch with the Alaska State Troopers via an InReach device.

Budd said residents in the area have worked with a regional air carrier to drop food and other supplies from a small airplane to help sustain them.

“The local community out there has been doing a great job of getting resupply drops to the fish camp out there,” he said.

While the Guard and ARCC are adept at rugged rescues, Budd said the ongoing efforts are unique relative to others he has overseen.

“Never a party of seven hunters,” he said.

Sponsored