Missing soldier Nephi Soper’s remains found in Tanaina Lake
Updated at 6:50 p.m. on Sunday, June 5
Alaska State Troopers say search teams found the body of missing soldier Nephi Soper in Tanaina Lake on Sunday morning.
Soper’s body was found at roughly 11:17 a.m. after a two-day search involving multiple agencies, according to an online dispatch.
“His intended route was to hike up the Prospect Heights trailhead and skirt along Long Lake and then go over the ridge line,” explained AST Sgt. Michael Zweifel. “From Long Lake to Tanaina Lake, it’s one to two miles as the crow flies, and it’s really the next valley over. So he was close to the area but not exactly on his intended route, and he was only off by a couple of miles.”
Alaska National Guard (AKNG) spokeswoman Sgt. Marisa Lindsay said the area was approximately nine miles due south of the National Guard armory.
“He was identified by a combination of physical recognition and clothing, as well as his military identification tags,” Lindsay explained.
Zweifel said Soper’s body was found in the water, but would not comment on the manner of his death. He said animals did not appear to have disturbed the body.
The AKNG reported Soper missing on Feb. 19, 2016, after he failed to report for training with his unit. He left plans with AKNG personnel that detailed his hike on Feb. 18 from Prospect Heights to Arctic Valley Road, near the armory. After searching for six days, the official search for Soper was called off on Feb. 24, although flyovers were conducted over the area he was believed to be traveling during planned training exercises, according to AKNG officials.
Soper’s family came to Alaska shortly after his disappearance to conduct their own search and collect his belongings. They also met with Soper’s fellow soldiers and some of the people who were involved in the initial search for him.
“We are thankful that, after three months of uncertainty, our soldier has been located,” a statement from Adjutant General for the Alaska National Guard, Brig. Gen. Laurie Hummel said. “We greatly appreciate the countless volunteers, Air Guardsmen and Army Guardsmen for providing their expertise in the search effort for Specialist Soper. Nephi Soper will always be an Alaska National Guardsman. His family is our family, and they will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”
The discovery of Soper’s body was the result of a planned search led by the Alaska Incident Management Team for Search and Rescue (AIMT-SAR). Zweifel said between 60 and 75 people in ground, helicopter and K-9 teams from close to a dozen groups assisted in the search for Soper, which began Saturday:
- Alaska Army National Guard
- Alaska Mountain Rescue Group
- Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs
- Backcountry Alaska Rescue K9
- Anchorage Nordic Ski Patrol
- Matanuska Valley Search and Rescue
- Wilderness Search and Rescue (Fairbanks)
- Anchorage Police Department Search Team
- Civil Air Patrol
- Alaska Solstice Search Dogs
After Soper’s body was recovered from the water, a crew flew him to State Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage. His family has been notified of his death.
“Nephi will always be an Alaska Army National Guardsman,” AKNG Col. Lee Knowles said of Soper. “His family is our family and we’ll always be there for them. Part of the warrior ethos is we don’t leave a fallen comrade behind. In this case, Specialist Soper is a fallen comrade and we owe that closure to our soldiers, to our families, and we owe that effort to Specialist Soper to make sure that we take every effort we can to return him to the family and to his family.”
Kenneth Soper, Nephi’s father, said he was planning to fly to Alaska from Missouri and collect his son’s body.
“He loved those mountains and he loved Alaska so much I feel that it would be right to have him cremated and sprinkle his ashes up in the area,” Kenneth Soper said. “It feels like a big weight’s been lifted off my shoulder. Everybody had the idea that he probably died, but now knowing some more of the details, it’s just a relief, but yet it’s still sad.”
“I would like to thank everyone involved in this search that finally brought my nephew’s body back off the mountain so that we can have a final closure,” Pamela Soper said in a statement to KTVA.
KTVA 11’s Shannon Ballard contributed to this report.
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