Rural Alaska

Young snowmachiner found suffering frostbite, another missing as search continues in Northwest Alaska

A significant air and ground search that at times involved dozens of volunteers continued Saturday as an 18-year-old remained missing days after he and his cousin had left Kotzebue by snowmachine.

Authorities were still searching Saturday for Thomas Aki Pungalik Brown after a private plane found Josiah Ballot, also 18, on Friday afternoon, according to Alaska State Troopers. Ballot was found about 28 miles south of Kotzebue — not on a marked trail and roughly 8 miles from his snowmachine, troopers spokesman John Dougherty said.

Ballot was “suffering from severe frostbite” and was flown to Kotzebue on Friday, then he was later taken by medical airlift to a hospital in the Anchorage area for treatment, troopers said. Troopers recovered his snowmachine from the sea ice Saturday, according to Dougherty.

The search for the two young men began Monday afternoon.

Troopers said they received a report around 12:30 p.m. Monday from the Northwest Arctic Borough Search and Rescue coordinator that Ballot, who is from Selawik, and Brown were overdue to arrive in Noorvik from a snowmachine trip to Kotzebue. A family member said Brown lives in Noorvik.

Josiah Ballot was traveling on a red and black Yamaha snowmachine, his mother Tanya Ballot said. She said it wasn’t known whether the two teens rode on one snowmachine or whether Brown had his own vehicle. The two are cousins, Tanya Ballot said.

Josiah Ballot arrived in Kotzebue the night of Jan. 14 after leaving Selawik the day before and traveling through Kiana and Noorvik, his mother said. People reported seeing him riding around town and on the ocean ice in front of Kotzebue.


Brown told his family that he “was going to go help his cousin, and he took off” from Noorvik to Kotzebue, according to his mother, Melinda Cleveland, who lives in Ambler.

Ballot and Brown told friends via social media they were leaving Kotzebue at midnight the day they went missing, troopers said, but were still in Kotzebue at around 3 a.m. according to their messages.

The two teens were seen in the Uutuku Store and Restaurant in Kotzebue “dressed up and ready to go,” said Tanya Ballot, who is also the Native Village of Selawik administrator. Josiah Ballot’s last location pin was behind Cemetery Hill, close to the trail toward the Devil’s Lake that leads out of town, his mother said.

On Monday afternoon, Josiah Ballot’s friend told Tanya Ballot her son had not arrived in Noorvik, she said.

Ground searchers from several communities looked for the cousins on the trails and coastline, while troopers flew above the Selawik to Noorvik trail and the Noorvik to Kotzebue trail, troopers said. The ground and air search continued Wednesday and Thursday, they said.

Josiah Ballot’s father, Daniel Ballot, went to Kotzebue and searched for the two young men from house to house.

By Friday, teams from numerous villages were involved in the search, according to Dougherty with Alaska State Troopers.

Troopers had two fixed-wing aircraft actively searching for the two teens, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center had an HC-130 in the area, and a private air carrier used another fixed-wing plane for the search, Dougherty said.

Volunteers from Selawik, Kiana, Noorvik, Kotzebue and Buckland were involved in the search, and more villages attempted to send help as well, Tanya Ballot said. People from around the country were providing financial help for the efforts, she said.

“They’re doing it from the kindness of their heart, and we don’t know other ways to just support and keep our people safe from harm,” she said. “When people are lost — anybody, it doesn’t matter who ... we all come together.”

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Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.