Bethel Search and Rescue has been looking for missing hunters for a week and a half

a person in a yellow jacket holds a rope in the water from a skiff
Bethel Search and Rescue President Mike Riley searches the Kuskokwim River with a drag bar. (Will McCarthy/KYUK)

Bethel Search and Rescue is continuing to look for a group of moose hunters who have been missing for a week and a half near Bethel.

On day eight of the search last week, about a dozen volunteers headed toward their boats after a morning briefing. It was raining, as it has been for much of the time since Justin Crow, Shane McIntyre and Carl Flynn disappeared on Aug. 30.

Mike Riley, the longtime president of search and rescue group, drove toward the harbor.

“It being so close to home with three people involved, it’s hard,” Riley said. “We know that is someone’s loved one out there. People depend on you to look for them and bring them home for closure.”

At the harbor, Riley checked his gear. The search group has been working under the assumption that the boat sank in rough waters after the men dropped off equipment at their hunting camp upriver. Search teams are dragging the bottom of the river with weighted hooks to try to locate the boat. The fact that they haven’t found it makes the search unusual. At 18-feet long, it should be hard to miss. Also unusual is that three people went missing at the same time, and then another person further upriver not long after.

Search and rescue is not easy work. Searchers are out in all conditions, often for 10 or 12 hours a day. After 30 years of volunteering, Riley noted that he wasn’t a young man anymore.

After leaving the harbor, Riley headed toward Straight Slough. Six boats were there searching for the missing hunters. Riley pulled up beside one.

“I’m sorry it took so long to come out here, but I was told something that I think will enlighten us,” Riley said.

Riley said he got a tip that two people were coming home to Bethel the day after the hunters were reported missing. Apparently they saw an aluminum pole bobbing upright in the water about 20 feet from shore, a few hundred yards upriver of Straight Slough. They had to swerve to avoid it. Riley thought it could be a clue.

“So that’s that side of the river, coming up,” Riley said. “That side of the river has never really been dragged.”

After hours of scanning sonar and dragging lines, hoping to catch something, even just this little piece of information seemed like a burst of energy.

Searching the river is a test of endurance. A few of the boats scanned the search area with sonar, slowly making a grid of each section of the river. The rest used drag bars, which are long ropes attached to a metal bar. Each of the lines had a weighted hook at the end. The idea is that if there’s something underwater, the hooks will catch on it. Hope, Riley said, is the name of the game.

Riley dragged the bottom of a 100 yard portion of the river. The tide was slack, so he kept one hand on the rope and the other on the steering wheel. Nothing. He tried again. Nothing. It started to rain. Riley tried again.

“The majority of the people that are out here have been out here since day one,” Riley said. “It’s a lot of stress and frustration, you know. We’re working in the dark.”

So far, the main clues the search and rescue group have are debris from the missing boat that turned up near the head of Straight Slough, but there’s still so much river to cover. The group has never given up on a search, and there are no plans for them to give up on this one.

“That was the question: How long are you going to search?” Riley said. “As long as someone is willing to come out here, we’re going to continue.”

The search and rescue group on Friday did confirm finding the body of another hunter, Daniel ‘Wun Wun’ Laraux, who was reported missing last week. Searchers found his body in the Kalskag area near his boat.

Previous articleBronson administration to close Centennial campground and move homeless residents into rec centers
Next articleSo you haven’t caught COVID yet. Does that mean you’re a superdodger?