Coast Guard didn't give up looking for missing hunters
It was one of the first news stories of the new year that truly had a happy ending. Three men overdue from a hunting trip in Prince William Sound were found safe on New Year's day.
Brothers Leo and Sam Tipikin, and their friend George Matveev, were picked up Monday afternoon by a Coast Guard helicopter.
Lieutenant Commander Mathew Hobbie, who coordinated the search and rescue mission, said the men left Whittier in their 20-foot aluminum boat Friday morning planning to overnight on Montague Island. When the boat experienced engine trouble, the men used a cellphone to call family and report they were heading back to Whittier and would be home in a few hours. It was the last anyone would hear of them for the next three days.
Hobbie said the men didn't file a detailed float plan so it was unclear which route they planned to take. They also lacked a vital piece of equipment.
"One of the biggest obstacles is that the boat did not have a marine VHF radio, and that's the primary way that the Coast Guard communicates with boats on the water," said Hobbie. "So, we were not able to talk to them, we were not able to hear from them, and that would have helped us find them much faster."
The Coast Guard has a way to plot where a disabled boat might be located using information from the wind, currents and tide. But Hobbie said a search of the most direct route back to Whittier turned up nothing. Then on Saturday, the weather turned, making it difficult for rescuers to see anything at all.
"At that point, the weather turned. We had a blizzard warning, forty knot winds, up to 12-foot seas and blowing snow."
Hobbie said the weather lasted all weekend, hindering search efforts, although rescuers never gave up. On Monday morning, the skies finally cleared and revealed the men had taken a different route towards Whittier through Knight Island Passage. They told the Coast Guard they didn't have the fuel to make it back to Whittier so they landed on Chenega Island where they found an old cabin to wait for rescuers.
Hobbie said the men were in good shape when they picked them up and each refused a medical evaluation. He called the mission successful but also recommended that people who boat carry the things that will help them to stay safe in an emergency-- including a satellite beacon and a VHF marine radio. He said a detailed float plan is also important.
"It should include where you are going, when you are going to come back, and what route you plan to take,' said Hobbie. "That way, if you are overdue on your voyage, that helps us locate you faster with that information."
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