Search continues for 7 boaters missing near Quinhagak

A cloudy seascape
The Bering Sea coast near Quinhagak on July 25, 2018. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Searchers continue looking for the seven people who went missing while boating to Quinhagak last week. 

The seven missing boaters are Chad Chadwick Sr., Neal Gutleben, Alexie Nose Jr., Michael Sharp, Elizabeth Wassillie, Willie Wassillie, and Bernice Waska. At least a portion of the group was last seen on Oct. 20 in Eek, the nearest village upriver from the coastal community.

On the morning of Oct. 27, former tribal police officer Jerry Brown was coordinating searchers in Quinhagak to look for the group.

“We got one, two, three boats right now, and they just filled up, and we’re waiting for more. Today we’re trying to get some boats to head down south along the coast line and up north to see if we can find any kind of debris, and check the creeks before the tide goes out,” Brown said.

Searchers from the nearby communities of Kongiganak, Eek, and Goodnews Bay have joined the search effort. Goodnews Bay also donated 100 gallons of gas.

The U.S. Coast Guard has assisted in the search since Oct. 23, dispatching either a C-130 airplane from Kodiak and/or a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Kotzebue each day. However, Petty Officer Lexi Preston said that the Coast Guard did not participate in the search on Oct. 26 because of high winds.

Alaska State Troopers are coordinating the search with the Coast Guard. Trooper Spokesperson Megan Peters said that they expanded their search area over the weekend after receiving a tip from someone familiar with past search and rescue operations in the area.

“In one case that they had dealt with, people in similar circumstances had ended up on the coast of Nunivak Island,” Peters said. “And because of that, we contacted the Coast Guard and requested that they search the south end of Nunivak Island.”

The Coast Guard went bigger. It chose to search all of Nunivak Island as well as the western coast of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.

In Quinhagak, SAR Coordinator Brown is grateful for the extra help. The COVID-19 outbreak in Quinhagak is reducing the number of people able to look for the boaters.

“There’s a bunch of people in quarantine,” Brown said. “We’re not trying to have those guys come around here. And we’re not getting many people with this COVID going on, too. And we’re trying to watch that carefully here.”

Quinhagak has one of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

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Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.