Petersburg’s Search and Rescue team located a missing hiker over the weekend. The man was in good health but was lost for over 20 hours. The Search and Rescue Team found the lost man Sunday morning, October 23rd. They aren’t releasing his name for privacy reasons.
Bjorn Stolpe is the Lieutenant of the Petersburg Fire Department. He said, “We could definitely hear that it was somebody yelling out to us. And so, we just closed the gap pretty quick. And, he was just hanging out in a little open section of the woods.”
Patrick Fowler learned of the missing person Saturday around 5:30 p.m. He’s the captain of the Search and Rescue team. He told me the man was hiking off-trail. “They weren’t very familiar with the area, but they had been instructed by their family member to go up into the muskeg and kind of make a loop and come back to the road where they’d pick them up.”
The hiker was six hours overdue when search and rescue showed up Saturday evening.Fowler said they continuously made sounds to try to get the hiker’s attention, which is a typical approach. He said, “One of our best tools is using sound attraction where we’re yelling or blowing whistles, or even last night, firing off a couple of gunshots, using horns and sirens on the roadways. Things like that are going to attract attention and get that person to respond back to us.”
The search was led by Fowler and the Fire Department. The Petersburg Police Department and the US Forest Service also helped. There were sixteen people working Saturday evening, including a few civilian volunteers. The Coast Guard launched a search helicopter from Sitka. The Petersburg Police Department also launched a drone, but the weather interfered with the drone’s work. Ultimately, the search team worked almost six hours without finding anything.
They stopped their search around 1:30 in the morning. Fowler said, “Staying up all night is really just not an effective use of our resources. We’re better off to take a break, and be fully staffed at first light.”
The team met at 6:30 Sunday morning to talk strategy. They received a weather forecast from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fowler said, “We had a pretty detailed forecast, which basically said, yeah, it’s gonna real be real bad. Like, sustain 30, knot winds gusts to 50, you know, rain.”
They prepared the teams starting with good rain gear. And they knew they’d need their trailer available for respite. Fowler said, “We moved the the trailer down there to facilitate a hot lunch and have at least a small pocket of space that folks get out of the weather.”
On Sunday, the team looked for about three hours before they found the hiker. Stolpe and Sam Caulum first found him. Stolpe recounted, “He was he was alert, responsive, and mobile, which are three big things that we’re checking for when we find somebody. We want to make sure that they don’t have any substantial injuries. …You know, he was definitely very cold. And his nerves were pretty shot. He was pretty shaky. But he was definitely very, very excited to see us.”
Fowler described the location of the man. “He was found kind of at the edge of a clear cut that is off Forest Service road 6222.”
The man’s health seemed OK. He was able to walk out of the woods with help. When he got to the trailer, he drank, ate, and warmed up. Then, the team brought him back to his family.
Additional reinforcements from Juneau Mountain Rescue showed up just as the man was found. Juneau Sea Dogs was also planning to send dogs.