Late last week, two Ketchikan hunters safely found their way home, but not before a search-and-rescue effort was launched after the two were reported missing.
The unidentified hunters, one in his 40’s and the other in his 50’s, set off from the 2nd Waterfall area north of Ketchikan on Friday (September 21st) for a day trip. When they did not return at the scheduled time, the wife of one of the hunters reported them overdue. Jerry Kiffer is with the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad.
“We contacted the Alaska State Troopers, which is typically what we will do for a missing persons case, and then it was decided because they had not returned that we would launch a search effort for them.”
Kiffer says the call was received at about 8:20 Friday evening, and searchers were on site by about 9:00.
“We sent two dog teams and a ground search team in the immediate area, and we located the pickup that they were using at the end of Waterfall Road, a fairly common jumping off point for that particular area. We sent the teams up into the muskegs adjacent to the road and below the local logging road. Pretty much all of our teams were back in by about 3:00 in the morning. They searched the logging road, the adjacent muskegs, up to the logging road without any signs.”
The men last checked in with their families at about 1:00 Friday afternoon saying they were surprised they had cell phone reception. Kiffer says the hunters reported the trip was taking longer than expected, but that they still planned to return before that night. Kiffer says when the first effort to find them failed, KVRS was getting ready to launch a second search Saturday morning.
“We were gearing up about 6:30 that morning. We were getting the helicopter lined up. We were going to put our crews on the top of the ridge line and work back down to the logging road, and then do an aerial search of the lower muskegs we were in the day before. Our concern was that they mentioned in their 1:00 phone call that they were up on top and were headed down. Our concern is that with the fog that had rolled in that day that they may have gone down the other side of the ridge.”
Kiffer says the search was called off when the men were reported found.
“Apparently what they had done is they had come down and got close to the logging road. They realized it was getting dark so they moved just off the logging road, found some shelter next to the road, spent the night, and then at daylight they hiked out the logging road. And that logging road would take them from the second waterfall system into the Whipple Creek drainage area. The next available public phone was Lighthouse Grocery that was open early in the morning. They made the phone call and ‘all’s well that ended well.’ The wife came and picked them up.”
Kiffer says while pleased with the outcome, the incident provides an opportunity to highlight the value of KVRS’s locator beacon program. Last Wednesday, three hikers used one of the beacons when they ended up in a steep canyon off of the Deer Mountain Trail. Kiffer says in that incident, help came in less than an hour and only a few searchers were needed. He says Friday’s rescue effort involved 12 searchers and over 120 man hours. Kiffer says that could have been avoided if the hunters had borrowed one of the beacons.
“If they realized that they weren’t going to be able to come back to their truck before dark, you can activate the beacon and send an ‘OK’ message. Basically what that means is that ‘I’m okay. Don’t worry. I’m not going to make it back.’ But by pressing that ‘OK’ beacon, we likely would not have gone out there. We’d put a dispatcher on the computer monitoring signals from the beacon, but we would have very likely not launched a rescue, and the next morning they would have walked out as they did. It wouldn’t have helped them a whole lot; but it certainly, I think, would have alleviated a lot of fears with their families.”
Kiffer says during the cruise ship season, the locater beacons are at the Ketchikan Visitor’s Bureau kiosk on the dock. The rest of the year, they are available from the Alaska State Troopers or from the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad. There is no cost to borrow the beacons.