Missing kayaker presumed dead

Jesse Mills UPDATE – 5:00 PM 04-08-16

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A 41-year old Sitka man missing in a kayak since Thursday morning is presumed dead.

The Coast Guard suspended the search for 41-year-old Jesse Mills of Sitka this afternoon (Friday 4-8-16). Mills was reported missing by his wife after he did not return from a solo kayaking trip on Wednesday night.

During a first-light search Friday, a Coast Guard helicopter discovered an overturned kayak on Kasiana Island. A diver recovered the kayak, wedged between rocks with a paddle attached.

Lance Ewers, captain with Sitka Search and Rescue, says that SAR will deploy a search dog to Kasiana Island on Saturday. “We actually have specially trained dogs here in Sitka that know how to drive around in open skiffs and scent, just like they would scent in the woods. We’re hoping the dog will give us some indication of an area we can put our divers in,” he said.

Mills left his home in the 1400 block of Halibut Point Road at 10 PM Wednesday night, after telling his wife he was going for a walk. The weather that evening was rainy with winds 15 to 25 mph. Ewers noted that Mills did not leave a float plan.

Mills and his wife, Amy Fyrdundel, moved to Sitka from California two months ago. Several friends and co-workers set out in private vessels to search for Mills. Ewers spoke with their employer, Schmolck Mechanical Contractors, who described Mills and Fyrdundel as “really awesome, good, hard working people.”

Ewers added, “Both only have been in town for two months and have already built strong bonds with friendships. You could tell that with the outpouring people who wanted to help.”

While mobilized searching has been suspended, the USCG Cutter Liberty will remain in Sitka to coordinate volunteer searchers.

Jesse Mills UPDATE – 2:00 PM 04-08-16

The search for 41-year-old Jesse Mills of Sitka continues. During a first-light search this morning (4-8-16), the Coast Guard helicopter crew discovered an overturned kayak on Kasiana Island. A diver recovered the kayak, wedged between rocks with a paddle attached.

Lance Ewers, the captain of Sitka Mountain Rescue, said Mill’s wife, Amy Fyrdundel confirmed the kayak was a match.

The Coast Guard Cutter Liberty launched a small boat crew to investigate Kasiana Island. Sitka Search and Rescue organized a search dog and 20 volunteers from the Coast Guard base to comb the shore of Kasiana and the surrounding islands. Ewers said a dive team with the Sitka Fire Department is also working in the area.

The Air Station Sitka helicopter crew was diverted from the search to respond to a plane crash on Admiralty Island today. Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said that Air Station Sitka was mustering another helicopter crew this morning to take their place. 

Jesse Mills UPDATE – 5:00 PM 04-07-16

The Coast Guard, Sitka Police and Fire Departments are looking for 40-year-old Jesse Mills. The Sitka man was reported missing by his wife this (04-07-16) morning.

Mills left home Wednesday night, wearing a black sweatshirt and black Carhartts. His single kayak, which is described as a lime green and white Seaward, is also missing, prompting his wife to believe he went kayaking.

Coast Guard Sector Juneau assumed control of the case.

Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said that the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Liberty and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Sitka continue to search for Mills. A Sitka Fire Department boat, Sitka Police and good Samaritans are also actively looking. And their search is not limited to the water.

“We don’t have any information that he is indeed kayaking,” Eggert said. “That’s why the police department is also involved with doing shore searches and keeping an eye out for him there.”

The Coast Guard has been focusing their search throughout Northern Sitka Sound, as well as Japonski Island and the east side of Kruzof Island.

Eggert said the search will continue until further notice. “We don’t know if he’s in any danger, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s important to find him and make sure that he’s safe.”

Anyone with information that may assist with the search is encouraged to call the Sector Juneau command center at 907-463-2980.