Missing since Friday night, Steven Craig, 41, a snowmachiner from the southern Kenai Peninsula, has been found.
Craig was spotted from the air Sunday afternoon by Homer pilot Charlie Kauffman, who joined the search effort along with his son, Ryan.
After being in the air for about three hours, the father and son hadn’t seen any sign of Craig and decided to look outside their specific search area.
“We had more fuel and more time and I thought we might just as well keep looking. And I just kind of had a hunch,” said Kauffman of broadening his search.
Kauffman’s hunch paid off. The two men spotted Craig walking near Cytex Creek headed north toward Ptarmigan Head. Craig’s snowmachine was nowhere to be seen.
“We flew over him a couple of passes, threw out a couple MREs (meals ready to eat), water, sandwiches and a blanket,” said Kauffman.”
After alerting other searchers they had spotted Craig, Kauffman returned to Homer and boarded a helicopter piloted by Mike Fell of Pathfinder Aviation. Kauffman was able to direct Fell to Craig’s location more than 20 miles from Homer.
“We picked him up about 2:45 p.m.,” said Fell. “He was in tough shape. I don’t know if he’d have made it another night.”
While Fell headed the helicopter to South Peninsula Hospital so Craig could receive any needed medical attention, Kauffman and volunteers Rick Alexander and Todd Green, who were flying with Fell, removed Craig’s wet clothes and put him in a warm, dry Mustang suit.
“He was soaked to the skin. He didn’t know who we were when we landed. He was mumbling and numb,” said Fell. “We started getting fluids into him and getting him warmed up.”
On Friday, Craig had been snowmachining with a friend. About 6:20 p.m. the two men decided to split up. The friend returned to Homer and Craig’s plan was to continue to Caribou Lake Lodge.
“About 40 minutes after splitting up, (Craig) contacted his wife and reported to her that he was low on fuel, didn’t have survival supplies and he said something to the effect that the fog was bad and he was disoriented,” Alaska State Trooper David Chaffin of Detachment E, Anchor Point, told the Homer News.
Craig also indicated at the time that he thought he was near a gravel pit east of Homer. As a result, that area was the focus of the search made by family friends who looked for Craig through Friday night.
Saturday morning, Snomads, a southern peninsula snowmachine club, and the Alaska State Troopers joined the search effort. Adverse weather conditions, including heavy rain and wind, made it impossible for requested air resources from Anchorage to reach the area. It also made it tough going for the search teams on the ground.
“Everybody that had snowmachine clothing on was soaked and frozen basically,” said Steve Parizek, Snomads president.
A helicopter from Pathfinder Aviation was able to join the Saturday effort; however, Craig was not located.
Weather for Sunday didn’t show any improvement over Saturday’s conditions. A National Weather Service report indicated continued rain, temperatures in the 30s and 40s, southeast winds from 10-30 miles per hour, and “significant water overflow on area rivers and streams.”
In spite of the forecast, more than 100 volunteers met Sunday morning at the Kachemak Emergency Services’ firehall at McNeil Canyon to be briefed organized by Phil Needham of Snomads and Bob Cicciarella, KES chief. Levels of snowmachine riding ability were assessed, teams were formed, areas were assigned and, as daylight began to spread, the searchers headed into the backcountry and took to the air to continue the search for Craig.
“We’re just super thrilled that he’s OK. That’s the biggest thing,” said Fell. “It wasn’t just us. The effort was tremendous. As another person said, ‘I’d want someone out there looking if it was my son.’ We were tickled to have been able to help out.”
Acknowledging the entire search effort, Kauffman said, “It was a good day. I’m glad it was the way it turned out. He needed to be found.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.