Stranded travelers found after night on Nushagak winter trail

Feb 23, 2017

Joe Hiratsuka, 81, Thomas Hiratsuka, 58, and Katherine Nielsen, 48, ran out of fuel on snowmachine trip from Dillingham to Koliganek. They were found by AWT helicopter search Thursday morning in fine health.

Trooper Borrego had been in one of the Department’s R-44 helicopters Thursday, piloted by Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Quist, serving a as spotter in a successful SAR mission for three snowmachiners. Upon returning to Dillingham, Trooper Borrego was presented with a certificate and a pin honoring his 10 years of service to the State of Alaska.
Credit Alaska State Troopers

KDLG: Three people, including an 81-year-old elder, who were reported overdue on a trip from Dillingham to Koliganek were found in good health Thursday morning.

An Alaska Wildlife Trooper spotted the trio during a helicopter search along the Nushagak River after first light. 

"At 9:26 they located the missing snowmachiners approximately seven miles north of Portage Creek, on the Portage Creek Trail," said AST Sgt. Luis Nieves.

Joe and Thomas Hiratsuka and Katherine Nielsen left Dillingham around 11 a.m. Wednesday, and ground searchers went looking after they were reported overdue in the evening. The hasty search came back around midnight, low on fuel, but confident they had found the trail of the missing travelers. None of the upriver villages reported seeing them arrive.

Nieves said the Hiratsukas and Nielsen started a fire and stayed put on the trail rather than seeking shelter in any of the cabins along the river by Portage Creek. They were dressed for the weather. The temperature had warmed into the 30s Wednesday in Dillingham, staying near there through the night.

“Alaska Wildlife Troopers provided them with fuel and ordered them back to Dillingham," Nieves said, adding that the helicopter would check on them during their trip back.

He said there had been no shortage of volunteers to search the trail, especially as word spread Thursday morning that the three had not been found the night before.

“We wanted to thank all the volunteers that went out last night and today to assist us in locating these people.”

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