Searchers find 1 of 2 missing Noorvik-bound snowmachiners

Sea ice on the Kotzebue Sound on Dec. 27, 2019. (Wesley Early/KOTZ)

The Northwest Arctic Borough Search and Rescue Team planned to set out at first light Monday morning to look for Thomas Brown, one of two missing teenagers who left Kotzebue a week ago on a snowmachine trip to Noorvik.

Brown was traveling with his companion, Josiah Ballot of Selawik. Both are 18.

A private plane spotted Ballot’s snowmachine on Friday afternoon about 28 miles south of Kotzebue, near some GCI towers.

Walter Sampson, a longtime member of the search and rescue team, said Ballot was found a short time later taking cover by a pressure ridge that had formed on the sea ice.

“The airplane landed close by and happened to be in the general area and looked under the chunks of ice and there, there he was,” Sampson said.

A map showing Kotzebue and Noorvik. (Google Maps)

Sampson said the ridge of ice, which protected Ballot from winds and 50-below wind chills, probably saved his life. He was medevaced to Anchorage for treatment of hypothermia and severe frostbite.

Sampson said the cold weather has also been hard on ground teams.

“People coming in with frostbites on their faces, with cold hands and other problems. When they come back, that doesn’t stop them.” Sampson said. “That’s how the community shows love to the people they’re looking for.”

The Northwest Arctic Borough Search and Rescue team has about 40 volunteers. Community members have brought in a steady supply of cooked dishes for the team, prepared pocket-sized packets of snacks for the trail and made breakfast every day. Some have shared warm clothing with crew members, while others have helped to maintain snowmachines.

“It’s a search that everybody comes together to work together,” Sampson said. “We also have search teams out in Noorvik, Buckland, Selawik that are also working out of those villages.”

Samson said crews will continue looking as long as possible — and will need help in the coming days with donations for fuel and other supplies.

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