Elder finds men missing on snowmobile trip

ANCHORAGE — Alaska State Troopers are crediting a Scammon Bay village elder for the rescue of two people missing on a snowmobile trip.

Despite medical issues that had required recent trips to Anchorage, Francis Charlie, 74, on Wednesday took off on his snowmobile and found two young residents of the southwest Alaska village, Travis Wassillie, 17, and Jessie Kasayuli, 20, who were overdue on a trip back from Chevak.

Scammon Bay is a Yup’ik Eskimo community a mile from the Bering Sea on the south bank of the Kun River about 520 miles east of Anchorage. The village has 270 residents.

Chevak is 25 miles south of Scammon Bay.

Ground storms in southwest Alaska can whip up snow and make navigation difficult. Wassillie and Kasayuli at about 8 p.m. Tuesday left Chevak for Scammon Bay in strong winds that limited visibility. When they had not arrived after two hours, family members called Alaska State Troopers in Hooper Bay.

Search teams from Chevak began looking for the young men and searched most of the night. Searchers from Scammon Bay and Hooper Bay joined them but the weather was especially foul around Scammon Bay, troopers said.

Charlie on Saturday had returned from Anchorage for treatment for an undisclosed medical condition “and therefore probably should not have been on a snow machine,” troopers said in their log of the incident.

However, he was worried about the young men, said his wife, Theresa Charlie. Kasayuli is the son of her cousin, she said.

Francis Charlie joined the search, but instead of looking Chevak and Scammon Bay, he drove east and north of the village.

His instincts proved correct. He found Wassillie and Kasayuli 15 miles east of Scammon Bay. The men in the bad weather overshot Scammon Bay, tried using a cellphone to navigate back and ran out of gas. They were not injured and Charlie transported them to Scammon Bay.

Charlie could not be reached for comment Friday. He was out again on his snowmobile, his wife said.

“He went fishing,” she said. “He says sometimes, ‘When I don’t do nothing, I hurt more.’ He has arthritis too.”

The rescue was one of two that Hooper Bay troopers responded to Wednesday. Two hunters were quickly found 27 miles east of Hooper Bay with the help of a personal locator beacon they were carrying.

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