SEADOGS track down lost Skagway hunter

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Two Juneau search and rescue members found a cold and wet overdue hunter early Tuesday.

Shaun McKnight, 33, of Skagway, "was very cold, very wet and very happy to be rescued," said Bruce Bowler, head of Southeast Alaska Dogs for Organized Ground Search. SEADOGS handlers Randy Walling and Kirk Radach found him at about 4:45 a.m. Tuesday on Sullivan Island south of Haines.

Bowler said when people are cold and wet they need to be found.

"If the temperature is in the 50s when you're wet, you can become hypothermic," he said. Hypothermia can cause people to lose feeling in their extremities, slur their speech and make bad decisions. It can also kill.

One lost hunter SEADOGS tracked down during the final weekend of November may have been an hour away from suffering hypothermia, he noted.

Alaska State Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson reported McKnight and Monte Mitchell, 33, also of Skagway, were hunting on the cold and rainy island when they separated while following a deer Monday morning.

In the evening, after searching for McKnight through the day, Mitchell called the Coast Guard, which dispatched a 47-foot rescue boat, Wilkinson reported.

The Coast Guard dropped off Walling and Radach on the island shortly before midnight and fired flares to assist the search, Bowler said. The searchers found McKnight about five hours later. Bowler said he was told the small fire McKnight had started went out.

Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist Thomas McKenzie said the Coast Guard had to break off the search to refuel and change crews after being out for 13 hours, including three hours before picking up the search for McKnight.

Wilkinson reported McKnight and the searchers were taken from Sullivan Island to Haines aboard Mitchell's boat.

"We go wherever we're needed," Bowler said.

At one time, it was standard to wait to see if overdue hikers and hunters came out of the wilderness before organizing searches, he said. But he said he would rather mobilize for a search that has to be called off than find someone whose condition is worse than cold and wet.

People can help rescuers and increase their chances of surviving the Alaska wilderness by properly dressing for conditions, he said. Cotton absorbs moisture. People are better off wearing wool, fleece or synthetics.

He also advises people to take flashlights and carry cell phones or hand-held VHF radios so they can communicate with people looking for them.

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