2018 off to a busy start for Bethel Search and Rescue
The logbook at Bethel Search and Rescue headquarters reveals a busy start to the year.
1/04/2018 - Report of a man seen walking away from town into the tundra.
1/05/2018 - Report a woman lying on the ground outside of town.
1/06/2018 - Citizen calls to report a woman attempting to walk to Kwethluk, 18 miles away.
It goes on and on, detailing the efforts it took to find them.
There have been more than a dozen calls so far this month. Searches can last more than eight hours. One man was so hypothermic, he had begun removing his clothes.
The notes so far all have one thing in common: alcohol.
"Alcohol has always been available but it’s become more readily available now," says Mike Riley, president of Bethel Search and Rescue (BSAR).
Bethel voted to allow liquor sales in 2015 for the first time in four decades.
"It’s causing a problem with people consuming alcohol while traveling between Bethel and villages, and that's when they start having problems," says Riley.
Bethel Search and Rescue is a volunteer organization. They have about 120 members, but the list of those who can respond quickly is closer to 20. Many of them have families, full-time jobs. The calls for help usually come in the early morning hours.
"We've been getting a little frustrated lately because it seems like everyone has been drinking," says volunteer Perry Barr. "It was almost a nightly basis we were getting these phone calls for people drunk on the trail and our members were getting physically and emotionally tired."
Still, when the call for help goes out, volunteers always go.
"Some of them are friends or relatives that turn up missing or go into the water," says Peter Atchak, former president of BSAR.
Many people in the organization have lost someone close to them.
"I got lost in the tundra for five days, froze some toes, some fingertips, and they brought me home," says volunteer Sam Samuelson. "So, I’ve been giving back ever since."
The organization says they have refocused efforts at prevention in recent years. By better marking trails, open water, and rough patches of ice road, they hope to prevent people getting lost.
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