By KYLE HOPKINS
Search teams in Bethel are scouring the bottom of Kuskokwim River this week as they look for the body of a person who may have fallen off the city seawall.
A man told Bethel police that he saw someone — he couldn’t say if it was a man or woman — fall or jump off the seawall at around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, said trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.
The witness couldn’t see anyone in the water and troopers don’t know who the missing person might be. “We do not have any reports of anybody missing,” Ipsen said.
It’s the second report of a disappearance in a Kuskokwim River community in recent weeks. In Tuluksak, 35 miles to the northeast, villagers continue to look for a young man who troopers say disappeared in late August.
A plane carrying searchers crashed Friday during takeoff from the village. Troopers report no serious injuries.
Peter Atchak, head of the volunteer Bethel Search and Rescue team, has been tracking both search efforts. He spoke in a short phone interview Wednesday night from a 20-foot Conex shipping container near the Bethel seawall — makeshift headquarters for the more recent search.
Outside, rain splashed 15 volunteers in four boats as they looked for a body. Bethel residents have been bringing Gatorade and hot moose soup to fuel the effort, Atchak said. He expected more volunteers to arrive later Wednesday night, fresh from work, to drag piping fixed with hooks along the river.
The Bethel search began even as villagers in Tuluksak continued to examine the land around the village and dragged the Tuluksak River for any sign of 19-year-old Crim Alexie.
Troopers say Alexie disappeared Aug. 28 after drinking with friends near the village. Tribal police officer Kim Lewis declined to talk about when or where Alexie may have last been seen, but said village police conducted a house-by-house search and asked for help locating Alexie over the VHF radio before notifying troopers he was missing.
A German Shepherd named Tobey from PAWS Search and Rescue Dogs in Fairbanks was flown to the village to aid in the effort.
The dog may have picked up the scent of human remains in the Tuluksak River on Friday, said handler Marty Williams, who told searchers to focus downstream from where they had been dragging.
But water searches can be inexact, especially when only one dog is used, he cautioned.
Regarding the plane crash, Williams had planned to leave Tuluksak at about 6:30 p.m. Friday night. The plane, a Cessna 207, reached a maximum height of about 20 feet before it came down, coming to a rest upright, Williams said. “We all walked after we got out of the airplane.”
Along with Williams and the search dog, the plane carried pilot Rob Morgan and trooper James Lester, according to troopers. All were treated at a Bethel hospital, troopers said.
Alexie remained missing as of Wednesday afternoon.
If you know anything about either search, or would like to share photos of the rescue efforts, call me in Anchorage at 257-4334 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Thanks to Molly Bailie for these pics.