Extensive search finds Interior hunters safe after two nights missing

An extensive search and rescue operation found two hunters Tuesday morning who were missing outside Fairbanks for two days, Alaska State Troopers said.

Troopers reported in an online dispatch they received word of the two overdue hunters shortly after 9 a.m. Monday.

The men, 26-year-old Shawn A. Bailey and 39-year-old Clinton J. Stewart, both of Fairbanks, had planned to hunt caribou on snowmachines Sunday, the last day of the season, in an area accessed from Mile 55 of Chena Hot Springs Road. They expected to return the same day, troopers said.

The men had told family and friends if they didn't return home by midnight to call the troopers, but the agency didn't receive the report until Monday morning, when the roommate of one of the men and the wife of the other simultaneously reported the duo missing.

"It is possible you can get delayed on a hunt because you have caught an animal and are butchering," troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. But that wasn't the case. Peters said the men's machines kept breaking down, so they tried to hike out, an attempt to stay out of "horrible" weather conditions.

The men spent their first night near Birch Creek, Peters said.

When they didn't return, searchers with Wilderness Search and Rescue set out on snowmachines, while a helicopter with the U.S. Army 152nd Aviation Detachment at Fort Wainwright searched by air.

Peters said the men had been contacted before they were in distress by Alaska Wildlife Troopers on routine patrols, which Peters said helped searchers narrow down the search area.

But bad weather conditions deterred those searching for Bailey and Stewart. Peters was told the fog was as dense as "pea soup" and rescuers could only see as far as the front of their snowmachines.

According to troopers, the hunters heard the helicopter Monday and were hiking up to a higher elevation in the hopes of being more easily spotted. But they were unable to hike out of the fog, Peters said.

At about 8:25 p.m. Monday, the search was suspended for the night, with four of the WSAR searchers setting up a mountain field camp in the area to remain overnight.

On Tuesday morning, at about 8:30 a.m., the search resumed, this time with a Bureau of Land Management ranger and soldiers from Fort Wainwright joining in, troopers reported. Soldiers were briefed and discussed tactics, but before they made it into the field the men made contact with WSAR.

The hunters were located at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.

"Yesterday, at first light, they heard snowmachines, so they fired off gunshots and tried to attract searchers to them," Peters said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The men were brought to safety via snowmachine. Bailey and Stewart were well prepared and in good health when troopers arrived, Peters said.

Megan Edge

Megan Edge is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.