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Searchers find body of missing Kodiak hiker

Posted: December 27, 2012 - 12:09am

KODIAK — Not a single cloud blotted the skies above Kodiak on Tuesday, but it was a dark Christmas as searchers found the body of a missing hiker on Mount Barometer.

Derek Winn Russell, 20, had been missing since Saturday when he left Coast Guard Base Kodiak on a hike to the summit of the 2,452-foot mountain.

Other hikers later recalled seeing Russell atop Barometer’s summit, but the Maine-born crewman from the Coast Guard Cutter Munro failed to check in after his climb.

At 6 p.m. Sunday, friends formally reported him missing and a search began.

That search concluded just after 2 p.m. Christmas Day after climbers found skid marks and Russell’s borrowed ice ax about 200 feet from the mountain’s summit. Russell’s remains were found shortly afterward.

The discovery is a frustrating end for almost 100 volunteer searchers who joined the official effort combing the mountain.

“We’ve had a lot of help, a lot of food and a lot of really good volunteers,” Hal Long, a member of Kodiak Island Search and Rescue, told the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

Most of the volunteers dropped Christmas plans with their families simply to deliver food or offer support, even if they didn’t tie on hiking boots or climb aboard snowmachines.

Capt. Jerald Wolozynski, commander of Coast Guard Base Kodiak, was one of those who stopped by the search’s command post. “Is there anything you need, anything at all?” he asked Nick Szabo, incident commander for Kodiak Island Search and Rescue.

The answer was no, but only because the Coast Guard and volunteers from across Kodiak had already acted.

Stacks of sandwiches, cookies and bottles of water filled a table Tuesday at the Coast Guard wood shop, which was drafted into duty as search central because of its location near the foot of Barometer.

Crowds of searchers — including many crewmen from the Munro — waited around the tables for news. So many people volunteered to help that there were too many for the available area, Szabo explained. “We don’t want to put the inexperienced people up on the steeper sections,” he said.

One of the people on those steeper sections was KISAR president Steve Wielebski, owner of Orion’s Mountain Hardware. Reached by cellphone, he described standing on an icy 30-degree slope covered in snow at the summit.

While Tuesday’s skies were clear, snow fell on Sunday and Monday, complicating the search effort that began late Sunday with a call from troopers, Wielebski said.

Four searchers worked from midnight Monday morning to 3:30 a.m. before turning back due to darkness and weather conditions. A Coast Guard helicopter joined the search a few hours later but was hampered by intermittent snow squalls that occasionally caused whiteout conditions at higher elevations.

“We’re not going to send ground crews up yet because right now with conditions, you can’t see anything,” Wielebski said Monday afternoon.

Two search-dog teams arrived from Anchorage aboard a specially arranged Coast Guard C-130 on Christmas morning, and clear weather allowed helicopters to land the dogs and climbing teams at higher elevations, speeding the search.

Russell’s next of kin have been notified, the Coast Guard said. No date has been set for a memorial service.

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