Search ends for missing Wrangell lodge caretaker

Posted: Friday, July 17, 2009

FAIRBANKS - Alaska State Troopers have ended their search for the caretaker of a hunting lodge in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

John Wipert, 60, was last seen in mid-June, when he reportedly left a note saying he planned to check on a cabin and would return that night. It's not clear which cabin he meant.

"He left bacon in the sink thawing out," Striker Overly, a hunting guide from Tok, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "It was like he was planning on coming back."

Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said searchers exhausted all possibilities and do not suspect foul play.

"We've looked everywhere we think is possible, and we've looked in unlikely spots," she said Wednesday. "We've put a lot of resources into searching for him. We can only go for so long with nothing."

Wipert is 5-foot-8, weighs about 190 pounds and has gray hair and a beard. His name and picture have been added to Alaska's missing persons clearinghouse.

Two brown horses branded with a rounded four-point star are also missing.

Urban Rahoi of Fairbanks, who owns the Ptarmigan Lake Lodge, said Wipert had some bad luck and was trying to make his way down to the Lower 48 when he agreed to live at the lodge and protect it from marauding bears.

Rahoi said he planned to buy Wipert an airline ticket in August; he will keep looking for Wipert, keeping an eye on the rivers.

"I'm afraid he might have tried to cross a river," Rahoi said. "That water is so fast even a horse can't stand up in it."

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