Thin ice caused a scare for many seal hunters from Kwigilngok when about a dozen snowmachines began floating into the Bering Sea after a large chunk of ice broke off and began drifting away.
The snowmachines were roughly three miles from shore before the hunters discovered what had happened.
“Those who went home ahead of us spotted them, we called them on the VHF’s to ask if they got home, then we hurried home once alerted that the snowmachines were 3 miles from shore,” Johnny Andrew Jr., one of the hunters from Kwigilngok, said. “Then we brought them back to shore by boat.”
Village rescuers pulled one snowmachine out of the salt water. Another machine had already disappeared under the ice.
Andrew says both machines that were attached to sleds were dragged into the water when the ice was drifting in the currents.
Andrew speculates the incident was caused by increased wave activity causing the ice to break off.
Seal hunting in the spring is known for its many hazards. The most significant considered the unpredictable nature of the sea and wavy conditions – even in calm weather. Those conditions can get the best of even the most experienced of hunters, according to Kwigilngok elder Roland Phillip.
“Since I’ve been hunting and traveling as a boy, I was repeatedly told that in the spring, the sea is wavy even when there’s no wind, breaking the ice even though it’s thick,” Phillip said. “The sea doesn’t tell you what it’s going to do, even on a good day, there are many dangers, even the most experienced hunters run into hardships from time to time.”
“We talk about it but you can’t completely avoid hardships, that’s the way it’s always been.”
Since the incident, the Kwigilngok River opened up, giving hunters a safer, more direct approach to seal hunting.