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Search under way for missing Coast Guardsman

Posted: December 26, 2012 - 1:06am

KODIAK — Fresh snow Monday hampered a search on Kodiak Island for a Coast Guardsman who went missing while on a hike.

The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports Derek Winn Russell of Hollis Center, Maine, was last seen at 10 a.m. Saturday as he hiked from the Coast Guard base to trails on nearby Mount Barometer.

Alaska State Troopers are leading the search with assistance from the Coast Guard and Kodiak Island Search and Rescue, which has expertise in mountain rescues.

Russell is assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Munro. His rank was not immediately released.

Trooper Boyd Branch said Russell was reported missing at 6 p.m. Sunday. Searchers had mobilized by 9:30 that night.

Steve Wielebski, president of the search and rescue group, said a four-person team searched on the ground from midnight to 3:30 a.m. Monday.

The summit is at 2,452 feet. Searchers climbed to the 1,200-foot level and split up to search to typical slide spots.

Wielebski said he found a blue, medium-size parka on the trail to the summit but could not say whether it belonged to Russell or another hiker.

Almost an inch of fresh snow made the initial search harder. Another six-tenths of an inch fell before noon Monday. Snow covered footprints and windblown powder created whiteout conditions at higher elevations, Wielebski said.

The foul weather prevented an aerial search until Monday morning.

“The Coast Guard has been instrumental in providing assets,” Branch said. “A helicopter can do in minutes what it takes people on the ground days to do.”

Searchers used heat-sensing cameras but spotted only deer and mountain goats, Wielebski said.

“They’re going to go up and do another search with the chopper, but right now they can’t even see,” he said Monday afternoon.

Mount Barometer is a popular climb and in summer the trail to the summit can be attempted by casual hikers. In winter, ice and snow can make hiking treacherous and strong winds create bone-chilling temperatures.

“Barometer, it’s a rough hike in summer and it’s even rougher in winter,” Branch said. “You need some technical gear to complete it safely.”

Branch said he hoped Russell had completed his hike and had simply not called his roommates.

“To be honest with you, I hope that’s the case,” he said. “I hope that he’s safe.”

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