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One Boater Dead, 2 Missing After Separate Alaska Searches

By Chris Klint, Senior Digital Producer, cklint@ktuu.com
Published On: Jun 23 2014 04:59:07 PM AKDT
ANCHORAGE -

One person is dead and two more are missing after separate Alaska boating incidents triggered weekend searches, both of which were suspended after about a day.

According to a U.S. Coast Guard statement Monday, Katmai National Park and Preserve rangers informed the Coast Guard Friday night that an abandoned kayak and backpack had been found, which Alaska State Troopers say belong to French national Francois Guenot.

The Associated Press reports that the kayak containing Guenot’s identification, food, maps and personal journals -- with the last entry dated June 15 -- was found Friday south of Cape Douglas, along Shelikof Strait.

An initial search by a Coast Guard HC-130 search plane and HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for Guenot was unsuccessful Friday night.

“The search resumed Saturday morning after sunrise when a Jayhawk crew and the Coast Guard Cutter Roanoke Island crew arrived on scene,” Coast Guard officials wrote. “The Coast Guard suspended the search Saturday evening, pending any further information.”

During the search, troopers learned more about previous sightings of Guenot.

“Further investigation revealed Guenot left Kokhanok on (May 9) to hike to Amakdedori Creek after arranging to have his kayak and other equipment flown to the Amakdedori Creek with intentions of exploring areas of the Shelikof Strait,” troopers wrote. “Guenot was last contacted by officers of the U.S. Department of Fish and Game on (May 26) near Amakdedori Creek when he was found trespassing in a cabin and illegally using a net to remove fish in the creek.”

AST spokesperson Tim DeSpain says that while Guenot is not new to the backcountry, no other signs of him were found during the search.

“He’s known to be a pretty avid outdoors person, and spends significant amounts of time alone out there,” DeSpain said. “It’s not unusual for him to be gone for some time, but finding his kayak and gear raises cause for concern.”

In a second call, Coast Guardsmen responded to the Ugashik River Sunday after sood Samaritans saved two of four people aboard a skiff which overturned in choppy water.

“Preliminary investigation revealed four commercial fishermen were operating a skiff while fishing on the Ugashik River when the skiff capsized throwing all four into the water,” troopers wrote. “Winds in the area were estimated at 25 mph with stronger gusts; waves were estimated at 4 feet at the time the skiff overturned.”

While a Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Kodiak and an AST helicopter were dispatched in response to radio calls from the scene, arriving just before 9 a.m. Sunday, boats at the scene took action. Two Washington men -- 47-year-old Earnest Pierce of Nine Mile Falls and 24-year-old Brandon Michael Park of West Richland -- climbed onto the skiff and were picked up, but troopers say none of the four were wearing life jackets.

“An adult male and a 17-year-old juvenile attempted to swim to shore,” troopers wrote. “The older male was later located in the water and was unresponsive.  Efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.  Efforts by rescuers on scene to locate the missing juvenile were unsuccessful.”

Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer 2nd Class DeVuyst says the Coast Guard doesn’t typically conduct river rescues, since its mission is in the area is focused on patrolling the Bering Sea.

“We don’t have a constant operating presence there -- we have our air assets that can respond to this,” DeVuyst said. “It’s about a two-hour flight from Kodiak for one of our Jayhawks, and by the time we got there from Kodiak, a good Samaritan had not only recovered the two men but also recovered the body of the deceased and the boat.”

DeSpain says the skiff was relatively large, but both the lack of flotation devices and weather conditions at the time contributed to the capsizing’s deadly outcome.

“Apparently it was about a 30-foot skiff with a 150-(horsepower) motor aboard,” DeSpain said. “Our trooper said that when it’s like that, people don’t usually go out.”

The Coast Guard suspended its search for the missing 17-year-old Sunday night; neither the missing boater nor the man who died have been identified pending notification of next of kin. Troopers are also unlikely to continue search efforts in the incident.

“I don’t think we’re actively continuing the search,” DeSpain said.