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Contact: Margie Steigerwald, (907) 822-7251
Copper Center, Alaska – Late last week, aerial and ground crews searching for any sign of two missing hikers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park discovered two gear-filled backpacks and a few other backpacking items on the Sanford River. Although no people have been found, the identification in each of the backpacks matches the names of the missing hikers.
Ground searchers did see footprints near the glacier that matched the print of a boot that was found about a mile down river. The gear was found along a seven mile stretch of the Sanford River near the location where the couple was dropped off by an air taxi service on June 22. They had planned a six-day hike from the Sanford River across the Dadina Plateau ending at the Dadina River on Wednesday, June 27. On Thursday, teams searching on the Dadina Plateau and along the Dadina River did not find any evidence of recent hikers, and by Friday the search was focused on the Sanford River.
As river levels dropped on Friday and Saturday, search crews discovered the backpacks and other gear in dry river channels that were previously full of silty, glacial meltwater and concentrated the search in the upper Sanford River where the couple was last seen. An intensive aerial and ground search on Saturday yielded a few more items but no additional sign of survivors.
After two intensive search days, the weather deteriorated on Saturday afternoon and ground crews were moved out of the field and the search was scaled back. The park pilot will continue to search the Sanford River area over the next few days as weather conditions allow.
Two helicopters, including the rescue ship from Denali, assisted in the search on Friday and Saturday. More than ten NPS search and rescue technician trained volunteers from the McCarthy-Kennecott area served as the ground search crews and about fifteen National Park Service personnel staffed the aerial search team and the incident command team.