Body of missing man found in Chatanika River
Search crews and volunteers have found the body of an ATV rider who went missing in May.
The body of 27-year-old Junior Leota was located in the Chatanika River, .85 river miles downstream from the point he was last seen, according to a trooper dispatch report online.
The Fairbanks man was reported missing on May 25 after he crashed into the river and was carried away in its current.
"As of [May 28] the search for Junior Leota has been suspended and recovery efforts will reassess and resume with improving river conditions," troopers wrote on Memorial Day.
Since then, AST spokesman Tim DeSpain said in an email Monday, roughly 100 ground searchers have checked eight miles of the Chatanika's banks downriver of the point where Leota was last seen. Alaska Wildlife Troopers, the Fort Wainwright Fire Department, state park rangers and the National Park Service boats – backed by volunteers' watercraft – have also searched the river, while three aircraft and a helicopter have taken photos during the weekend.
Leota, however, was not found after search efforts Monday including a trooper helicopter overflight of the river and a search by a boat carrying sonar operators.
Troopers said Leota was last seen near Mile 10 of the Old Elliot Highway when a report came in at about 3:15 p.m. of “someone crashing their ATV into the Chatanika River at Olnes Pond and getting swept downriver.”
“The river was searched by boats and aircraft unsuccessfully,” troopers wrote in a weekend dispatch. “Wilderness Search and Rescue set up a command post and began searching along the river banks with ground searchers and tracking K-9 teams.”
Leota is a father of two, originally from Samoa, according to his sister Patricia Leota – who says her brother doesn't have any immediate family in Alaska, other than his wife and parents-in-law.
She’s hoping people in the Fairbanks area can help.
“We know, he's alive. He's out there, he's probably, you know swept up by the current. We just want everybody to please extend the love, extend the search out in an area that was never searched before,” Leota said by phone Saturday. “He’s the only brother we have. I’ve lost a brother already.”
DeSpain said Saturday that it wasn't clear whether Leota had any additional riders, but he "was witnessed rolling his ATV down the river bank and into the water."
Leota's body was sent to the State Medical Examiner's office for an autopsy.
Liz Raines contributed to this story.
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