Coast Guard ends search for 7 boaters missing from Quinhagak

Boats in Quinhagak, Alaska (Kristi Shallenberger/KYUK)

Searchers from multiple communities continue looking for the seven overdue boaters who never arrived in Quinhagak last week.

About a dozen searchers are participating, coming from Quinhagak, Eek, Kongiganak, and Platinum. Bethel Search and Rescue is also providing support. 

Usually the number of searchers greatly outweighs the number of the missing, but the coronavirus pandemic is severely limiting the number of people able to join. Many people are in quarantine; communities are locked down; and of the seven overdue boaters, most have family in Quinhagak. Traditionally, families of the missing do not search. Also, temperatures are dropping.

“Each and every day we’re searching it’s starting to be colder and colder outside. Tops of the little puddles starting to be frozen,” Quinhagak Tribal Police Chief John Peter said.

Where it feels coldest is on the water, where the searchers are going out.

The Coast Guard stopped searching for the overdue boaters on Oct. 27 after searching Nunivak Island and the western coast of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region for four days. Alaska State Troopers coordinated the search with the Coast Guard.

“The active search has been called off,” Trooper Spokesperson Megan Peters wrote in an email. “Should debris or new evidence be discovered, we can reevaluate and possibly resume search efforts.”

Chief Peter listed the debris found by searchers over the past week: “There was a 15 gallon tank, 6 gallon tank, 5 gallon white bucket, a personal flotation device, a glove. That’s all the debris that was found so far,” he said.

The items have been shown to the families to identify, but it’s unknown at this time if any of the items belong to the missing boaters.

Whether the search has turned into a recovery effort, Peter wouldn’t say.

“We still have hope,” Peter said. “If we put ourselves in the families’ shoes, we’d want others to help. That’s what is keeping me personally going.”

Many people and organizations have donated to the search effort. Peter says that food, gas, and two-way radios for the searchers are needed