The search continues for two snowmachiners who went missing in the Big Lake area last weekend.

Family members identified the missing riders as LaVerne and Van Pettigen in a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon, adding that they were last heard from just before 11 a.m. Sunday. They were reportedly riding "a 2000 Black Polaris 500 and a 2014 Yamaha Dark Blue Vector."

According to the couple's daughter LaTisha Wilkinson, the Alaska Air National Guard said the last cell signal picked up was Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. and teams were searching the area from which the signal came.

 
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Teams continued to look throughout Wednesday.

"Right now we have troopers out with one of MAT-SAR's K-9s just checking areas as well as we have numerous volunteers," Mark Stigar with Mat-Su search and rescue said on Wednesday. "The big thing is if anybody wants to come out and help look, please check in through us. That's one of our major roles today, is just to keep track of everybody so we don't lose a searcher."

 

Wilkinson said LaVerne is a born and raised Alaskan, while Van moved to Alaska in the 1970s while in the military. Both have been realtors for more than 20 years.

LaTisha said her parents have a condo in Big Lake and are both experienced snowmachiners. Their last phone message, at 10:53 a.m. Sunday, was a response from LaVerne to someone interested in viewing an Anchorage property.

Missing snowmachines ridden by LaVerne and Van Pettigen on a December trip in Big Lake, seen here in February 2018 photos. (Courtesy Pettigen family)

Around 25 volunteers came out Wednesday to search for the Pettigan's using snowmachines, while another 15 or 20 have been searching since Tuesday night, Stigar said. Wednesday was the first time a K-9 was used to aid in the search.

"They up your odds by about half," Stigar said of the dogs. "I'm a K-9 handler and what our dogs do — MAT-SAR has a number of different dogs and the skills that went out are wilderness air scent, so finding people in the woods, and also the dogs have skills to be able to locate human remains if that's needed."

The Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson launched a helicopter just before 5 p.m. on Tuesday to look for the Pettigens. Guardsmen assisted troopers leading the overnight search.

 

Stigar said search and rescue teams will be in the staging area at Power Sports as long as they're needed or until troopers say they should head home.

"The one thing that's common is we're all Alaskans so we're all here to help each other," Stigar said.

The family urges anyone with information on the missing riders to contact troopers at 907-373-8300.

Chris Klint, Daniella Rivera, Elizabeth Roman and Janis Harper contributed information to this story.

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