Bodies of missing hikers in Wrangell-St. Elias found
The National Park Service says the bodies of missing hikers who were on a six-day backpacking trip through Wrangell-St. Elias National Park have been found.
Rangers recovered the bodies of 62-year old Rochelle Renken and 62-year old Michael Huffman, both from Columbia, Missouri, along the Sanford River, which is located in the park, according to a release from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park/Preserve spokesperson Margie Steigerwald on Tuesday morning.
"Preliminary identification by NPS law enforcement matches that of two backpackers that were last seen on June 22 when they were dropped off by an air taxi operator at the Sanford Glacier airstrip less than two miles from where the bodies were found," the release said.
NPS says the deaths appear to be accidental; no foul play is suspected. The bodies were sent to the State Medical Examiner for positive identification.
As the river levels dropped on Friday and Saturday, crews found two gear-filled backpacks and a few other backpacking items were found on the Sanford River late last week.
"Ground searchers did see footprints near the glacier that matched the tread of a boot that was found about a mile down river," the agency said. The gear was found along a seven mile stretch of the Sanford River near the location where the couple was dropped off by an air taxi service on June 22."
Search crews found the backpacks and other gear in the dry channels that were previously full of silty, glacial meltwater and focused on searching in the upper Sanford River where the couple was last seen.
"An intensive aerial and ground search on Saturday yielded a few more items but no additional sign of survivors," Steigerwald wrote.
The hikers from Missouri planned a six-day hike from the Sanford River across the Dadina Plateau, ending at the Dadina River. NPS officials say the couple was scheduled to be picked up Wednesday morning by an air taxi.
The couple is reported to have missed two pre-planned satellite phone calls with the air taxi operator, one each Tuesday and Wednesday. The pilot called to report the hikers overdue after they failed to show up at the pre-planned pickup location.
The pilot searched for the couple by air for several hours but was unable to locate them.
By Thursday evening, there were 27 NPS personnel and five aircraft involved in the search for the missing hiker, including an Alaska State Troopers spotter plane and two aircraft from the Copper Valley Air taxi company.
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