Search and Rescue for Snake Lake homesteader Tuesday

Dec 14, 2016

Mike Branson, 68, made it to East Creek Lodge after a 12 hour trek from the Snake River. He was hospitalized for cold exposure and other injuries. Authorities notified by use of Personal Locator Beacon.

KDLG: A 68 year old man was rescued after abandoning his homestead near the mouth of the Snake River west of Dillingham Tuesday. Mike Branson, originally of Texas, had hiked through the night and reached the East Creek Lodge at the boat launch, but was suffering from cold exposure when he got there.

A distress call went out early and was relayed to local authorities.

"At 4:58 in the morning, we got contacted by the Rescue Coordination Center which is located at JBER, and they advised us that a personal locator beacon had been activated in the vicinity of Snake Lake," AST Sgt. Luis Nieves told KDLG news Wednesday.

Troopers were able to determine that the PLB, which have unique identification numbers, belonged to Branson. Friends of Branson expressed concern that his homestead site hadn’t been fully finished before the winter, and that he might be trying to walk back to Dillingham.

Troopers and volunteers searched by snowmachine at first light Tuesday morning.

"We went to the residence and couldn’t find him," said Nieves. "Eventually we received a Skype call from the caretaker at the lodge that is located right by the boat ramp at Snake Lake, and were advised that Mr. Branson was currently at the lodge being provided temporary shelter."

The lodge is several miles away and across the Snake River from Branson’s homestead site. The low cloud ceiling prevented aircraft from flying to the lodge Tuesday around noon. An emergency vehicle was able to drive down Snake Lake Road early afternoon to get to the lodge and reach Branson. Sgt. Nieves says Branson was suffering from exposure and had an injury to his face from falling on the ice.

The 68-year-old had gotten cold and wet during the  long trek out through the night, and had not been able to signal for help until he triggered the beacon.

"Mr. Branson reported to us that he had been wandering around for twelve hours, and out of desperation after firing off several rounds from his firearm, running out of ammunition, activated his PLB," said Nieves.

Branson was hospitalized for his injuries. He’s been working on the homestead site on the south end of Snake Lake since the summer of 2012.

Search and Rescue agencies recommend the use of PLBs, which send a distress signal to a worldwide satellite system monitored by NOAA which can coordinate with local searchers.  

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.