After two young men went off-course on a snowmachine trip from Chevak to Scammon Bay this week, it was an unlikely responder who came to their rescue.
Late Wednesday night State Troopers from Hooper Bay got a report that Travis Wassillie and Jessie Kasayulie, aged 17 and 20, were overdue on a snowmachine trip from Chevak to Scammon Bay.
Groups from all three communities set out and searched through the night, but their efforts were hampered by strong winds and low visibility.
When the search resumed Thursday, it was joined by 74-year-old Francis Charlie, a relative of the two men. Charlie said he felt a strong urge to go off in a different direction than where the searchers had been looking.
“Somehow, somebody pushed me – go ‘cause that was stormy that night,” said Charlie. “I can’t stay in the chair or bed. So I go.”
Charlie went off solo despite having gotten bladder surgery just a week before. His wife, Theresa said she tried to stop him leaving, but it was no use.
“There was nothing I could do because he keep wanting to go, he was so worried,” Theresa said. “The only thing I gave him was a bottle of holy water, that’s all I let him bring.”
On account of his surgery, Charlie spent the 2-hour search standing up on his snowmachine on the bumpy trail. Eventually he found Wassillie and Kasayulie about 15 miles east of Scammon Bay, and brought them back cold and wet but unharmed.
Charlie believes the boys got lost because the wind shifted overnight, and they weren’t looking out for landmarks like patches of grass and old snowdrifts.
“My grandpa always tell me – Everytime you go someplace, don’t follow the wind, they’ll change right away,” Charlie said.
According to Troopers, the young men had been attempting to navigate using a cell phone and ran out of gas after missing Scammon Bay.
There was actually a second search-and-rescue in the same area Wednesday night – 50-year-old Johnny J Mann and his teenage son from Hooper Bay got caught in the storm on their overnight hunting trip. Troopers noted that rescue was much easier because Mann used a personal locator beacon (PLB) to alert the Coast Guard of his location.