Growing search underway for two young Northwest Alaska men missing for days

Missing snowmachiners Kotzebue Noorvik teens

A significant air and ground search that included dozens of volunteers was underway Jan. 20 for two 18-year-olds missing for four days in Northwest Alaska.

Alaska State Troopers say they received a report on Jan. 16 around 12:30 p.m. from the Northwest Arctic Borough Search and Rescue coordinator that Josiah Ballot of Selawik and Thomas Aki Pungalik Brown were overdue arriving in Noorvik on a snowmachine trip from Kotzebue, according to the troopers’ report. 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 towards the Devil’s Lake that leads out of town, his mother said.

The search began the afternoon of Jan. 16 when Josiah Ballot’s friend told Tanya Ballot her son had not arrived in Noorvik, she said.

Kotzebue Noorvik missing snowmachiners teens
Kotzebue Noorvik missing snowmachiners teens

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 on Jan. 18 and 19, they said.

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

By Jan. 20, teams from numerous villages were involved in the search, according to troopers spokesman John Dougherty.

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.”

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.