Searchers looking for 7 missing boaters near Quinhagak

Boats in Quinhagak. (Krysti Shallenberger / KYUK)

Searchers are looking for seven people who went missing while traveling by boat to Quinhagak. The group was last seen on Oct. 20 in Eek, the nearest village upriver from the coastal community.

The group started with three people in Quinhagak and grew to seven in Bethel. They were traveling in a 20-foot gray, aluminum-welded boat with a blue Yamaha outboard motor.

Quinhagak Tribal Police Chief John Peter said Alexie Nose Jr., Michael Sharp and Willie Wassillie left Quinhagak on Oct. 17 to go seal hunting. They then boated to Bethel, where they picked up Chad Chadwick Sr., Neal Gutleben, Bernice Waska and Elizabeth Wassillie. On Oct. 20, the group stopped in Eek to get gas.

“Somebody told us that they got 3 gallons of gas, and someone gave them 7 gallons. That’s 10 gallons, enough for them to come this way,” Peter said.

Peter has a photo of the boaters in Eek from the Eek police. However, the photo only shows three of the travelers. Peter identified them as Sharp, Nose Jr., and the third as either Chadwick Sr. or Willie Wassillie.

Troopers joined the search. The Coast Guard dispatched a C-130 plane from Kodiak. Bethel Search and Rescue searched Kuskokwim Bay from the air in a Cessna airplane between Napakiak, Quinhagak, and Kongiganak. Chief Peter and fellow officers waited at the Quinhagak boat harbor for three nights for the missing group to arrive. Boats can only travel into the community on high tide, and the high tide is currently after midnight.

On Oct. 22, searchers from Quinhagak boated upriver to Eek to look for the missing travelers. Because of the widespread COVID-19 outbreak in Quinhagak, the searchers did not enter Eek, Peter said. Eek Tribal Gaming Director Michah Heaken said that searchers from Eek looked for the missing travelers in the tributaries surrounding the village.

Chief Peter said that heavy winds are creating high waves in the river and he called in all the search boats on the morning of Oct. 23. Around noon that day, a group began gassing up their four-wheelers to ride to the coast to look for the missing travelers.