Missing man’s family continue search on Kenai River

Raindrops disturb the surface of the Kenai River as it riffles over a rock near Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017 near Soldotna, Alaska. The family of a man who went missing after falling into the Kenai River near Soldotna last week is still searching the water and banks downstream for traces of him and plans to continue the search Thursday. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

The family of a man who went missing on the Kenai River last week coordinated a search effort on the river Wednesday to look for him.


There’s still no trace of Phillip Keltner, who went by Kurt, after he fell into the Kenai River near Soldotna last Friday when the fishing boat he was riding in overturned. Three other people riding in the boat were able to make it to shore safetly but Keltner, 63, of Colorado, was last seen in the water near Centennial Park, near mile 20 of the Kenai River. None of the men were wearing lifejackets at the time, according to a dispatch from the Alaska State Troopers.

Alaska State Troopers and Alaska State Parks rangers have looked for him in the area, but with no success, and called off the official search efforts Saturday. He was last seen wearing boots, camo pants and a black sweatshirt with a red fish on the back.

Keltner’s family flew up from the Lower 48 to help with the search and used social media to reach out to friends and community members to organize a citizens’ search effort on the river Wednesday, which drew between 40 and 60 people in six boats with others donating water and food, said Missy Keltner, Kurt Keltner’s daughter.

“It was an amazing turnout today,” she said. “…(Some locals) took the reins on the search and made sure that everyone was getting out there safely and returning safely.”

However, the group was not able to find any definite evidence of Kurt Keltner on Wednesday and plan to go out again Thursday, beginning at approximately 10 a.m. at Centennial Park in Soldotna. The city of Soldotna, which managers the campground and the boat launch, will waive the entry and launch fees for those officially organized with the search effort.

“We do have a couple of boats that the guide association is letting us use, but we are looking for experienced drivers,” Missy Keltner said. “Lifejackets are extremely important — we are requiring everyone to have lifejackets.”

Those with boats of their own who know the Kenai River well to help in the search would be welcome, as well as anyone with sonar equipment, particularly side-scan sonar equipment, to help in searching the river, she said. The opaque quality of the Kenai makes it hard to search the bottom without equipment, so the sonar would help them identify anything hard to see from the surface.

Most of the searchers are sweeping the area near the park where the boat overturned, though some went a few miles further downstream. Overland searchers would be welcome, too, she said.

Anyone with information about Kurt Keltner’s whereabouts should contact the Alaska State Troopers’ Soldotna Post at 262-4453 and reference incident number AK17054261.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.