Mayor, two children missing after boat capsizes in Bering

Man dies, two others found clinging to overturned vessel

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2005

ANCHORAGE - One man died and a man and two children were missing Wednesday after their whaling boat capsized off St. Lawrence Island in the frigid Bering Sea.

The 16-foot skin boat, with six people on board, was part of group of boats hunting whales from the Yup'ik Eskimo community of Gambell, according to Alaska State Troopers.

The missing included the village mayor, Jason Nowpakahok, 38, his daughter, Yolanda Nowpakahok, 11, and his nephew, Leonard Nowpakahok, 11.

Alaska State Troopers identified the dead man as James Uglowook, 20.

Two men found clinging to the overturned vessel, Davis Uglowook, 37, and Darin Slwooko, 25, were treated and released from the Gambell Clinic.

A boat in the group had struck and killed a whale and other boats were helping to tow it ashore.

Coast Guard officials said the victims had been helping tow the harvested whale to Gambell but broke off when weather deteriorated. The boat was returning to pick up more villagers, troopers said.

Shortly before 2 a.m., someone on Nowpakahok's boat radioed and said it was having problems and taking on water. A boat that had been helping tow the whale split off to lend assistance.

Villagers on the second boat found the first vessel capsized with Davis Uglowook and Slwooko clinging to the side.

A short distance away, they pulled in James Uglowook, who was unconscious in the water.

No one on the boat was wearing a life jacket, troopers said.

Troopers after sunrise at 6 a.m. chartered an airplane at Nome to fly search and rescue personnel to Gambell. After delays due to foul weather, the Coast Guard sent a C-130 airplane to the search area.

At 9:50 a.m. ADT, the temperature was 35 degrees with winds at 29 miles per hour. By noon, the small boats had left the search area because of rough weather, leaving the C-130 alone in the search.

Coast Guard spokesman Ray Dwyer in Juneau said the strong wind would hamper searchers launching from Gambell.

Ten Alaska villages are authorized to hunt whales for traditional subsistence use, and crews have targeted bowhead whales that are migrating north through the Bering Strait and into the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Gambell, with a population of about 650 people, is on the northwest cape of St. Lawrence Island, some 700 miles northwest of Anchorage and just 36 miles from Russia's Chukotsk Peninsula.

The whaling season's first bowhead, 32 feet long and weighing an estimated 16 tons, was landed last week by a crew from Little Diomede Island, about 165 miles northwest of Gambell.

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