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Contact: Margie Steigerwald, (907) 822-7251
Copper Center, Alaska –Yesterday National Park Service (NPS) rangers recovered the bodies of two hikers along the Sanford River in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Preliminary identification by NPS law enforcement matches that of two backpackers that were last seen on June 22 when they were dropped off by an air taxi operator at the Sanford Glacier airstrip less than two miles from where the bodies were found.
The backpackers were 62-year old Rochelle Renken and 62-year old Michael Huffman, both from Columbia, Missouri. The couple were experienced backpackers and Renken has been to Alaska several times in the past and had previous experience crossing Alaskan rivers. Positive identification is pending from the State Medical Examiner. The deaths appear to be accidental. No foul play is suspected.
After the hikers failed to make their airstrip pick-up at the Dadina River on June 27 and missed two pre-planned satellite phone calls with the air taxi service, the service notified the NPS. The NPS initiated an intensive aerial and ground search for the couple on June 27. By June 28 there were 27 people and five aircraft involved in the search for the missing couple. Late last week, search crews found footprints along the Sanford River where it emerges from the Sanford Glacier. The footprints were indicative of two people preparing for a river crossing.
Over the weekend search crews found two backpacks and other backpacking gear strewn along a seven mile stretch of the Sanford River downriver from the Sanford Glacier and the location of
the footprints. Water levels in the Sanford River receded on Friday and Saturday leaving items stranded in dry channels along the river. Based on the evidence that was found by searchers, it
appears that the couple attempted to cross the Sanford River near the toe of the glacier and were swept away by the powerful, glacial river.
The NPS reminds backpackers that river crossings are always dangerous and that rivers and streams that are sometimes passable become impassable, even for experts, after rain events or on sunny days with rapid glacial melt.