Body of missing Valdez doctor found

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A Valdez doctor known for his wilderness skills was found dead in the water in the Port of Valdez Friday, two days after he was reported missing.

The body of Dr. Andrew Embick, 52, was spotted by a kayaker about 8:30 a.m. submerged in a few feet of silty water near a rocky shore just east of the small boat harbor, Valdez police said. Authorities recovered the body about 11 a.m. a half mile from where his empty rowing scull was found drifting Wednesday.

Police Chief Joseph Michaud said the body would be sent to Anchorage for an autopsy by the state medical examiner. Until then, he said, he would not comment on the condition of Embick's body.

''We're not willing to speculate on the cause of death,'' Michaud said, adding the investigation is ongoing. He hopes to have the autopsy results by the end of next week.

Embick, an experienced boater, left his wife a note Wednesday morning, saying he was going out on the water. His empty rowing scull was found drifting in the port of Valdez later that morning.

Embick and his wife, Dr. Kathleen Todd, were partners at the Valdez Medical Clinic. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Embick had practiced medicine in Valdez since 1979.

He was known for his participation in rigorous outdoor races and authored several books and articles, including the 1994 book, ''Fast & Cold: A guide to Alaska White Water'' and the Valdez ice-climbing manual ''Blue Ice and Black Gold.''

Michaud said the area where Embick's body was found had been examined at least three times during an extensive search Wednesday and Thursday. The chief said divers will probe the area in coming days to look for clues.

Witnesses saw Embick launch his scull about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Around 10 a.m., two canoers saw the boat drifting but thought perhaps someone was lying down in it, Michaud said.

A half hour later, the canoers saw that the boat had drifted to shore and called police when they didn't see anyone in it. The boat had no water in it and binoculars were found in the bottom, indicating the boat had not capsized, Michaud said.

A Coast Guard helicopter and two patrol boats began searching for Embick, holding out hope his boat had drifted away while he was on shore.

Also joining the search were Alaska State Troopers, volunteers and the Valdez police and fire departments. The Civil Air Patrol joined the search on Thursday.

Three weeks ago, Embick returned from a 6-month sabbatical in northern Pakistan, where he provided medical care in a village. He took the leave of absence after a long dispute with administrators of the Valdez Community Hospital.

He also was involved in several confrontations with snowmachiners riding illegally on local ski trails.

For more than a decade, Embick tussled with the city over use of the trails he helped to set up. He was arrested, fined and banned from using the ski trails for his confrontations with snowmachiners.

Valdez resident Mark Julien, a patient of Embick's, said any adversaries the doctor might have had over the years were a minority.

''He was a real good doctor and he was liked by most people,'' Julien said. ''Most people couldn't care less about his fights over the snowmobile trails.''

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