Quick search mobilized, but hikers walk out

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001

Hikers overdue from the Eagle River United Methodist Camp on Wednesday afternoon caused the Juneau Rope Rescue Team and other search and rescue personnel to turn out, but the hikers rescued themselves.

"It was not a big deal because the hikers were supervised and nobody was hurt," said Martin Grennan, manager of the camp at mile 28 of Glacier Highway.

Seven people were reported overdue about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday "as part of our risk management program, but the search never took place," said camp coordinator Leslie Thompson.

The missing hikers were leaders Nancy McKeller and Marlene Meade, both age 50 of Wichita, Kan.; Tryphena Cargill, 15, of California; Sammy Legg, 13 of Juneau; and Anna McKeller, 15, Krista Youll and Emily Mathews, both 12, of Fairbanks, state troopers said.

The hikers had left Tuesday on a hike along Eagle Glacier Trail to a cabin on the east side of Mendenhall Glacier, planning to return Wednesday afternoon, said Trooper Matt Hightower.

"About 4:30 we decided to initiate a search and rescue," Hightower said. "As we were gathering people for the search, the hikers walked back into camp. Everybody was happy and glad to be back. No injuries were reported."

"It was what we call a 'hasty search,' " said Bruce Bowler, incident commander with South East Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search. "We get a dog and handler down the trail real quick and have a helicopter look."

Helicopter rental costs about $700 an hour, but "we in the rescue community would rather err on the side of caution than wait a day to see if anybody walks out," Bowler said.

Hightower said a Temsco helicopter was passing by and took a look, so no expense was necessary.

The 43-acre Eagle River United Methodist Camp is supported by all three Methodist churches in greater Juneau as well as churches in Ketchikan and Sitka, said Sharon Cooper of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

"There are about 53 kids and 20 support staff there this week, and there is a church group from Kansas visiting. It's a community camp, so many church and non-church groups and individuals use the camp throughout the year," said Judy Klein, treasurer for Eagle River camp.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Capital City Fire & Rescue were not involved in the search, said Petty Officer Darrell Wilson. "We took the initial call and passed it to the troopers and SEADOGS," Wilson said.

Although it may appear that rescues are peaking this month, Wilson said the number of cases is not unusual for July.

"Summer is always busy, but even winter months are busy because of the fisheries. This is par for the course. A few of the individual cases have been more dramatic this year, such as the Arctic Rose and the 23 hikers from Ohio, and maybe it seems like more because they're getting more air time," Wilson added.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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