The U.S. Coast Guard called off its search Wednesday for Alaska’s former top tribal health executive, Andy Teuber, a day after the helicopter he was piloting went missing near a windswept archipelago that pilots say is a notoriously tricky area to fly.
Teuber, 52, took off for Kodiak Island on Tuesday afternoon from downtown Anchorage’s Merrill Field. That was the same day the Anchorage Daily News published sexual abuse and coercion allegations by his former assistant, which appear to have prompted Teuber’s resignation last week from his $1.1 million-a-year job as president and chairman of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
On Wednesday, as a Coast Guard helicopter and cutter searched for Teuber’s helicopter near its last reported location in the Barren Islands, Alaskans who knew of his work in politics, health care and aviation were still trying to make sense of his disappearance.
Some speculated that Teuber could have intentionally crashed his helicopter, while others noted that the aircraft went missing in an area known for challenging pilots.
“It creates its own weather. And it can creep up on you pretty fast,” said Tom Walters, a retired Kodiak helicopter pilot.
Teuber’s disappearance came after a swift fall from his position at ANTHC — one of Alaska’s largest businesses, with 3,500 employees and nearly $1 billion in annual revenue. He’d been president since 2008.
Teuber, who grew up in Kodiak, still held a separate chief executive job there at a regional tribal health care provider called the Kodiak Area Native Association. He’s also held positions on a number of nonprofit and other community boards, like the University of Alaska’s board of regents.
Last week, Teuber resigned his job at ANTHC along with his position on the University of Alaska board without giving an explanation.
Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the Daily News reported that Teuber’s resignation had come just after his former assistant, a 27-year-old Alaska Native woman, had accused him of forced sex and abusive behavior in a letter to ANTHC’s board of directors.
Teuber called the allegations against him false, and said he would never engage in a nonconsensual relationship with anyone.
Teuber told the Daily News that he’d recently been married, and he also listed his Anchorage home for sale this week, his real estate agent told news outlets Wednesday.
Teuber’s black and white Robinson R66 took off from Merrill Field around 2 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Coast Guard. Spokeswoman Alexandria Preston said the aircraft’s last known location was two miles southeast of the Barren Islands, which lie about 25 miles off the southwest tip of the Kenai Peninsula.
Conditions around the time Teuber went missing were winds gusting to 21 miles and a temperature just below freezing, according to a nearby data buoy that National Weather Service officials said was the best source of information.
One of Teuber’s family members notified the Coast Guard that he was missing around 5 p.m. Tuesday, and the agency subsequently launched a 13-hour search that involved three helicopter crews, an HC-130 Hercules plane and a ship.
The crews spotted a yellow float that was consistent with a float that would have been found on Teuber’s helicopter, but they were unable to recover it and confirm that that was the case, said Preston.
The National Transportation Safety Board is now launching an investigation into Teuber’s disappearance and is assembling flight data and weather information, said Clint Johnson, the agency’s Alaska chief. It’s asking anyone who might have information about the weather in the area of the Barren Islands at the time to email email@example.com.
ANTHC’s board, meanwhile, has launched its own investigation into the accusations against Teuber, which will be conducted by an “independent, outside investigator,” the organization said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
“Through the process of the investigation, this board is absolutely committed to ensuring a safe work environment for all ANTHC employees.” Bernice Kaigelak, who replaced Teuber as board chair last week, was quoted as saying. “Unfortunately, Alaska Native women are disproportionately impacted by violence. We will not tolerate misconduct or sexual harassment of any kind. We are moving forward.”