Overdue sheep hunter from Fairbanks says he wasn't lost, just determined

Rescue called in after man failed to meet up with brother, nephew

Posted: Friday, September 04, 2009

FAIRBANKS - An overdue sheep hunter picked up by a rescue helicopter in the Brooks Range claims he wasn't lost.

Bob Zachel of Fairbanks said he knew right where he was, had plenty of food and was more concerned about finding a Dall sheep than meeting back up with his brother and nephew.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported the hunters had been dropped off last week by a pilot, but Zachel turned up the wrong drainage and was delayed by a snowstorm and missed Saturday's pickup flight.

His brother, Cort, reported him missing to the North Slope Borough Search and Rescue Department. The chopper found him Monday after he hiked down from cloud cover.

"Everything worked out fine," Bob Zachel said Tuesday, back in Fairbanks.

"I had a little mix up with the pilot and I got separated a little bit," he said. "I never felt like I was lost; I knew right where I was."

Pilot Matt Walker, a family friend who flew the Zachels in, had dropped Bob Zachel on a landing strip he decided was too short to take off from with a load.

"I said, 'If you don't want to take off with a load, I don't want to be the load,"' Bob Zachel said.

So Walker took off by himself and then dropped Cort Zachel and his son on a landing strip about four miles away. He dropped Bob Zachel a note explaining where they were.

But Bob Zachel turned up the wrong drainage when he set out to meet his brother and nephew, a mistake he recognized too late to avoid getting caught in a snowstorm that dumped four inches of snow the night of Aug. 25.

"I didn't get too excited about running over in the snow to find them," said Zachel, who had a tent, sleeping bag and food. "I wasn't concerned. I had enough clothes and shelter. I wasn't going to do anything stupid and run out there and get cold and wet."

By the time the snow melted on Aug. 27, Zachel had spotted some sheep on the hillside above him and decided to go after them.

"I went up and there wasn't anything legal," he said.

In retrospect, Zachel said he should probably have used that time to hike to meet his brother and nephew.

"If I had taken that time to go find them, it would have been all right," he said.

But it rained and snowed again on Friday and Saturday, preventing Zachel from attempting the trip. On Saturday, the pilot who dropped the Zachels off returned to retrieve Cort Zachel and his son. They flew over the area they thought Bob Zachel would be in but didn't spot him.

Zachel said he still had four days worth of food when he was picked up.

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