Alaskans volunteer to help family search for missing boater
The family of a missing boater from Colorado says they're overwhelmed by the support they've received from Alaskans who showed up to help search.
It was about a mile downriver from the Centennial Park boat launch in Soldotna that 63-year-old Phillip or Kurt Keltner was last seen.
His family says he was fishing with three friends Friday night when something went wrong with the boat, they lost control and all four men were thrown overboard.
The other three saw Keltner above water, swimming to shore, but say by the time they got there, he had disappeared.
Troopers say none of them were wearing life vests.
In a dispatch report Sunday, Alaska State Troopers reported, "All search units were unable to locate Keltner and the search was suspended. Further searches of the area are underway by the Alaska State Park Service. The cause of the boat malfunction if under investigation. Next of kin has been notified."
Wednesday morning, Missy Games, Keltner's daughter, said, "We found out through friends and something online that the search had been suspended. The family wasn't notified, so we were very upset to hear that news and had a lot of questions why. We had a meeting first thing Monday morning with the State Troopers and they kind of explained their scenario to us, but still left us very uneasy."
She went on to say, "We were also told by Parks and Rec and a lot of the fishing guides that they were not notified of the accident until Sunday morning, and we feel that that is just, you know, somebody's not doing their diligence in letting the public know. And we don't know, we don't want to point fingers, but we just really feel that the public should have been made aware as soon as the accident happened."
In an email to KTVA, AST spokesperson Megan Peters wrote:
"We have kept the next of kin appraised of the situation. We understand that this is a difficult time for the family. We are not going to provide commentary on our conversations with them. Doing so would not do anything other than cause more grief for the family. A missing persons bulletin has been put together. A missing persons case will remain open until he is accounted for. Searchers were out the evening Mr. Keltner went missing. Based on the circumstances, no additional resources were put out in the field the following day by AST. The Alaska State Park Service and AWT are continuing to check the area on their regular patrols."
"They called the search off before 48 hours, which is very premature, we feel, and so that's why we're out here," said Games.
She and other family members flew in from the Lower 48 as soon as they learned what happened, and while the official search was over, the family was able to use social media to organize a volunteer search Wednesday.
"We have no idea who they are, but they are willing to help us and we are so grateful for everybody," said Games, as dozens of volunteers prepared to head out to look for signs of Keltner using boats with sonar equipment.
She says her dad has been fishing on the Kenai River for decades and even built a house here.
"This is his home away from home. This is his happy place. He works in the winter in Colorado and comes up to Alaska to play in the summer time... He's the definition of an outdoorsman and he wouldn't have it any other way."
Games says while they still don't know what went so wrong on the boat that Friday evening, they know they don't want to leave Alaska without finding Keltner.
"We do feel that if he would have made it to shore, he would have been found by now, and I think that's another reason why the troopers suspended the search, because it's no longer a search and rescue, it's a search and recovery."