Wave of Western Alaska boating incidents leaves 4 dead, 2 missing

a search
Search teams look for missing boater Alexander Henry on the Kuskokwim River near Bethel on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. (Evan Erickson/KYUK)

Update, 8 a.m. Friday:

Alaska State Troopers have named a second Atmautluak man killed after a skiff collided with a barge on the Kuskokwim River near Oscarville Wednesday evening.

Searchers found the body of 30-year-old Joseph Martin at about 5:45 p.m. Thursday, troopers said in an updated online dispatch. The barge’s crew recovered and tried to resuscitate 22-year-old Henry Alexie immediately after the collision, but he died Wednesday. Troopers had received word of a second occupant being missing from the skiff, leading to the search that found Martin.

“Martin was the only person known to be missing as part of this search and rescue incident,” troopers wrote.

Troopers thanked local search-and-rescue groups for their assistance in finding Martin. His family has been notified.

Original story:

Three people have been found dead following a series of recent, separate boating incidents in Western Alaska, as searchers seek at least two more people still missing.

The most recent incident occurred Wednesday near Oscarville on the Kuskokwim River, according to an online dispatch posted by Alaska State Troopers. Word reached troopers shortly before 5 p.m. that a 14-foot skiff had rammed the rear end of a 285-foot barge under tow by a tugboat. The barge’s crew recovered 22-year-old Atmautluak resident Henry Alexie from the water and attempted lifesaving measures, but he died at the scene.

“It is believed there may have been a second individual in the skiff with Alexie,” troopers wrote. “(Search and rescue) efforts are underway searching the river, as well as investigative efforts to confirm that a second person was in fact in the skiff.”

Reports of the other three boating incidents began to arrive over the weekend.

On Saturday, a Koliganek village public safety officer alerted troopers to a swamped boat in the Nushagak River near Lewis Point. The boat was empty and had no identifying registration numbers. Troopers subsequently received word that Togiak resident Kelly Coopchiak, 25, was likely in the vessel. She is now considered missing.

Alaska State Parks and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials conducted an unsuccessful air search, and parties have also searched nearby cabins. Search efforts were continuing Tuesday, with troopers and Dillingham Search and Rescue teams searching the river by boat.

A day after the boat was discovered in the Nushagak, troopers got word at about 2 p.m. Sunday that two people on a boat coming from the Kuskokwim River community of Napakiak were overdue.

According to an online dispatch, a search was launched and a Tuntutuliak village police officer found the boat submerged upriver. Tuntutuliak resident Marcella Jimmie, 44, was found dead and a man was found on the riverbank wet and hypothermic.

On Tuesday, troopers received a report at around 9:15 a.m. that a boat with three people in it had capsized on the Kuskokwim near Bethel.

trooper dispatch on the incident said Tuluksak resident Brenton Napoka, 26, was found dead, with 31-year-old Alexander Henry of Akiachak missing. A third boater was rescued.

Troopers said several agencies are helping with the search for Henry, including the Alaska National Guard and local search groups from Bethel, Akiachak, Kwethluk, and Napaskiak.

Troopers have notified Alexie, Napoka and Jimmie’s families.

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