Search called off

Officials shift focus to recovery efforts for missing Juneau pair

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2000

The search for two Juneau men missing since Wednesday afternoon has been put on hold after rescuers spent more than 150 hours trying to locate them.

"The active search was suspended pending further developments," said Lt. Stacie Fain of the U.S. Coast Guard at 6 p.m. Saturday. "The Coast Guard has been asked by the Alaska State Troopers to assist in the recovery phase and they'll try to put an underwater camera on the cutter Anacapa (today)."

The targeted area is in Young Bay near Skull Island, based on where two tires were found floating, Fain said.

On Friday, the tires and a piece of wing were found, and the tires were identified by a mechanic as probably belonging to the single-engine Bellanca Scout piloted by Steve Zeckser, 51. Zeckser was accompanied Wednesday by flight instructor Edgar "Bear" Burch, 63, on his biannual flight review. The pair planned to fly from the Juneau Airport to Young Bay, 12 miles southeast. When they did not return on schedule, a search was launched. Nothing definitive was found Wednesday afternoon or Thursday.

After the debris was found Friday, all searchers converged on the area and used infrared cameras to scan for survivors. The Army National Guard and the Coast Guard Auxiliary joined Friday's search.

Although the tires were found a mile apart near Middle Point on the back side of Douglas Island, Petty Officer Darrell Wilson said Saturday morning that did not mean they had drifted a great distance. "Our people are saying there has not been much (current) drift," Wilson said.

At first light Saturday, the Coast Guard was searching with both helicopters and boats. Thirty volunteers were on the ground, including U.S. Forest Service employees, some of whom knew Zeckser, and members of the Juneau Mountain Rescue team, Wilson said.

They concentrated on the back side of Douglas Island along the Mansfield Peninsula and the shores of Young Bay. Volunteers were deployed on both sides of Stephens Passage, he said.

"With the temperature of the water, a person's time limit for being in the water has been far exceeded," Wilson said. "But everyone always holds out hope" for survival. "If these guys were on land, or swam to land, there are always Forest Service cabins to get in. But they wouldn't have any flares, so they would have to wait for us to find them."

Chuck Ramage, a real estate agent with Re/Max, had Zeckser's house listed for sale and said Zeckser and his wife Georgie were planning a vacation. "It's shocking," Ramage said Friday. "He was a real nice guy."

Dental surgeon Eric Paulson said two of Zeckser's daughter, Ingrid and Mickey, had worked for him as surgical assistants. A third daughter, Jennifer, worked for the state Department of Law.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneau empire.com.



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