Two hikers from Whitehorse got turned around on the Arctic Brotherhood Trail outside of Skagway on Tuesday evening. Members of the Skagway Volunteer Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard searched through the night. The hikers were located mid-morning Wednesday uninjured.
The search and rescue call went out just before 9 p.m. on Tuesday announcing that the two hikers were overdue. Volunteers from Skagway’s fire department and, later, members of the Coast Guard looked for 30-year-old Wei Yang, and 22-year-old Yun Zhu overnight.
A Coast Guard Jayhawk was deployed from Sitka at about 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Petty Officer Lauren Steenson says they coordinated with the Alaska State Troopers and the Skagway searchers, and looked for several hours in the early morning hours with a spot light. They were on standby as of 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, but the weather had gone downhill. With the clouds rolling in and visibility waning, the search was relegated to the ground. Temsco Helicopter pilots were also on standby to assist if needed.
According to the Alaska State Troopers, the hikers were located, cold and wet but otherwise uninjured, at around 10:30 Wednesday morning.
Megan Peters is a public information officer with the Troopers. She says the call came in to the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, and while there is no trooper post in Skagway, they often serve as a command center to help with incidents like this one.
“A lot of times we used local search and rescue volunteer assets, or we pool assets from other areas and we manage the search and rescue operation,” she says. “Just because there’s not one physically there doesn’t mean that we don’t have the case and we’re not organizing and making sure people are accounted for. The last thing we want is for somebody to go searching and then become missing themselves.”
The 10-mile roundtrip trek to the top of AB Mountain is a strenuous affair with an elevation gain of about 5,000 feet. And while it’s a popular hike, the trail is not as well-maintained as some of the easier ones in the area.
Emily Rauscher is the emergency services administrator for the Municipality of Skagway.
“All of our search and rescue responders are all volunteers,” she says. “So, the time that they commit is invaluable and it’s really appreciated. Nobody is getting paid, it’s their time that they’re donating, they’re losing out on sleep and then they’re going right into work the next day. It’s pretty amazing.”
She says more than 20 volunteers show up to help with the search efforts.