The Search for Nick Cooke and Jim Lee Napoka
Search halted due to freeze-up
November 17, 2013
The Tuntutuliak SAR crews continued their search for Saturday but reported that both the Kialik and Qinaq River, where Tuntutuliak is located, were freezing up and that it was difficult to return home after yesterday's search.
Due to freeze up and ice conditions, the search crews will halt the search temporarily.
The Tuntutuliak SAR volunteers will continue to search the Kialik River for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka as soon as they able to access the area by snowmachines or ATVs. A new update will be posted if the search is resumed.
Our hats are off to the Tuntutuliak SAR volunteers for their dedication and sacrifice, for thinking of others in the way they are doing so.
The ice in Bethel is getting thick, really moving, say Bethel seawall ice fishers.
Search continues, on both land and water
November 15, 2013
Having access to the Kialik River, the Tuntutuliak boys today continued searching for the two missing men, Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka, and have plans to continue searching tomorrow, weather permitting.
The searchers received some assistance today from Bruce Franscisco of Kwethluk and Jason Larson from Napaskiak, who flew down to Tunt by plane to help out. Thanks to ERA Airlines for flying them down.
BSAR has informed the Tuntutuliak crews that we will be able to help with whatever they ask for or with anything they might need for the search.
The Kuskokwim River opened up again today (most likely due to a jam upriver), allowing a few boaters to venture out, but with cold temperatures finally falling in Bethel, the river is most likely going to close up again.
Tuntutuliak volunteers resume search with no results
November 14, 2013
With the weather much improved today, the Tuntutuliak SAR volunteers headed out today and continued their search for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka, in the area where two search dog teams developed "hits" last week when they were dispatched to the area to help in pinpointing the possible location of the two missing men.
There were no results to report of concerning today's search.
Bethel and most communities upriver of Tuntutuliak are barred from boating on the Kuskokwim, due to the arrival of pack ice from the colder upriver regions.
Kialik River search on hold
November 13, 2013
For the last few days, searchers from the lower Kuskokwim were unable to travel to the Kialik River search site, to continue looking for Nick Cooke of Bethel and James L. Napoka of Tuluksak. Weather has been the main factor in keeping the searchers from continuing.
Yesterday, the ice in the Kuskokwim packed into the Bethel area and jammed, ending the boating season for Bethel and the surrounding villages. The Tuntutuliak SAR group has indicated they will continue searching for as long as possible until they are forced to end their search by weather or ice. Tuntutuliak is the closest community to the Kialik River area.
BSAR ends participation in search; Tunt group to continue
November 11, 2013
Due to the threat of freeze up, the BSAR volunteers at Kialik returned to Bethel during a break in the weather Sunday.
In the last few days, upriver villages called and reported that ice was coming down in greater quantities, signaling that freeze-up was imminent in the Bethel area. The BSAR leadership discussed their options and decided it was best that volunteers from villages above Tuntutuliak return home before the main Kuskokwim freezes up and prevents their return.
Today, ice chunks began flowing through the Kuskokwim River at Bethel.
In other news, the ASARD search dog teams reported that they appeared to have two "hits" on the Kialik River search area, and the Tuntutuliak search groups will concentrate in those areas when they are able to in the next few days, weather and ice permitting.
The search dog teams returned to Anchorage today.
Search resumes for Cooke and Napoka
November 10, 2013
After two days of hiatus due to inclement weather, the search for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka resumed today, this time with the addition of two search dogs from the Alaska Search and Rescue Dog Association out of Anchorage. The plan is to fly the dogs and their handlers to Tuntutuliak and from there, bring the search dog teams to Kialik River by boat.
ASARD volunteers Paul Stoklos with "Maro" and Deb Gillis with "Ruger" visit BSAR headquarters while waiting for weather to break
BSARs and ASARD dog handlers scope out a map of the Kialik River
The ASARD dog handlers discuss deployment plans with BSAR chief Mike Riley (2nd from left) and other BSARs.
Bethel kids get to meet the specially-trained search dogs while in Bethel Saturday.
Search on weather hold
November 8, 2013
There were no results to report of after yesterday's search.
Today's adverse weather is preventing volunteer SAR crews from continuing their search for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka at the Kialik River site. Currently, winds are blowing around 20 mph in Bethel and gusting to 30 mph.
The forecast for today along the coast where the search is occurring calls for 25 to 35 mph hour winds and gusts to 45 mph this afternoon. A coastal flood warning remains in effect until midnight tonight.
In addition, unpacked ice is beginning to move through Bethel from upriver or inland regions where the temperature is much colder. As temperatures drop even lower, the ice will become much thicker and begin to pack.
In most years, the Kuskokwim River is frozen over by the end of October. This year, a string of unusually warm weather systems originating from the south and west Pacific Ocean areas have kept the Y-K Delta from freezing over this late into the season.
Search crews attempt another try
November 7, 2013
Search crews are moving back into the Kialik River area today to begin both water and ground search operations again, said BSAR chief Mike Riley.
While the water crews will continue dragging the Kialik River channel, another crew will search new ground on the right side of the river, Riley said.
"Although the river was still choppy this morning, it wasn't bad enough to keep search volunteers from returning to the search area," he added.
Weather around the region
November 6, 2013 4:00 PM
At 3:00 PM, the FAA AWOS (automated weather observing system) reports for certain locations contained the following:
-At Cape Newenham: Wind SSE 33 mph, gusting to 61 mph. Clear.
-At Kipnuk: Wind E 43 mph, gusting to 48 mph. Light rain, mist.
-At Mekoryuk: Wind SSE 37 mph, gusting to 49 mph. Overcast.
-At Hooper Bay: Wind ESE 40 mph, gusting to 49 mph. Overcast.
-At Cape Romanzof: Wind 31 mph, gusting to 54 mph. Heavy snow.
-At Bethel: Wind E 15 mph. Overcast.
The Cape Newenham and Kipnuk FAA AWOS's are closest to the Kialik River area.
Quinhagak boaters missing
UPDATE: November 6, 2013 2:00 PM
It has been reported that the three missing boaters have arrived or been located at the village of Quinhagak as of 1:00 PM today, with confirmation coming from the local authorities in Quinhagak.
November 6, 2013 - Original story
Yesterday, a report was made to Bethel Search and Rescue about people in one boat that were supposedly heading to Quinhagak from Napakiak, but not have been heard from since Monday, the day of their travel.
Walter Johnson, Robert Guest and Adolph Paul were traveling in a Lund with a 70-hp Yamaha. The last message from the boaters was that they were leaving Napakiak and approaching the Johnson River, but were experiencing some kind of motor trouble.
A hasty team from BSAR on Tuesday searched the waterways from Bethel all the way to Kialik River but did not see another boat. Another hasty team from Quinhagak motored from their village to Eek but did not see anything either. Eek volunteers headed to the Kialik River search area for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka reported seeing nothing either.
Currently an Alaska State Trooper aircraft is conducting an aerial search of the Lower Kuskokwim area, including the back sloughs to the Iinrayak River by way of Pismeof Lake.
If anyone has information about these three men, please contact the Alaska State Troopers at 543-2294 or Bethel Search and Rescue at 545-HELP.
This is a developing story. More information will be provided as it comes.
Searchers sit out storm
November 6, 2013
Searchers from Tuntutuliak and BSAR are hunkering down in Tuntutuliak as the storm that moved into the Bering Sea yesterday begins reaching the Y-K Delta coast today. Currently, winds in Mekoryuk are gusting as high as 54 mph and in Kipnuk 45 mph.
The volunteers left Kialik River in the late afternoon yesterday as the winds picked up and kicked up 3-foot waters on the Kuskokwim, which were enough to cause spray and get boaters a little wet.
NWS downgrades storm
November 6, 2013
After blowing as much as 86 miles an hour along the Aleutian chain, the National Weather Service has canceled the high wind warnings throughout much of the Bering Sea area, as its front moves away in a northeasterly direction toward southwest Alaska.
However, winds of 45 mph are still being forecasted along the coast and 57.5 mph along the seas between Kuskokwim Delta and Nelson Island. Flooding is still imminent for southwest Alaska, says the NWS in their weather briefings.
Arrival of search dogs postponed
November 5, 2013 5:00 PM
The arrival of the ASARD dogs tonight to assist in the search for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka this week has been postponed due to an approaching storm, according to Lt. David Tracy of the Alaska State Troopers in Bethel.
Instead, the specialized dogs will arrive on Friday night and are scheduled to be on-site at Kialik River Saturday and Sunday, Lt. Tracy added.
Powerful storm hits Aleutians
November 5, 2013
This morning, a storm system that spawned off a powerful tyhpoon made its way into the Bering Sea and pounded the Aleutians, bringing wind gusts of up to 70 mph.
Although the eye of the storm will linger out in the Bering Sea (until this coming weekend when it's expected to move ashore), its outer bands are forecasted to affect the western Alaska coast, includng the Kuskokwim Delta, bringing near-60-mph winds beginning Wednesday.
As a result of the storm system, a coastal flood watch is also in effect from Wednesday afternoon through Friday. A storm surge of one-to-three feet is forecasted, and low areas are expected to be inundated with flood waters.
Today, six boats are dragging the Kialik River, while two boats are continuing the ground search. Yesterday, an unidentified elderly man stopped by the searchers and suggested such.
Two teams of search dogs are scheduled to arrive tonite into Bethel and assist in the search tomorrow, weather permitting.
Monday's search unfruitful
November 4, 2013 8:30 PM
Search volunteers from Bethel and Tuntutuliak returned today to the Kialik River area to continue their search for the two missing men Nick Cooke of Bethel and James L. Napoka of Tuluksak.
The crews continued to drag the river today, but without success.
Yesterday, on Sunday, a small crew from Tuntutuliak was able to boat to Kialik River during a break in the weather and searched on land until dark. The search however yielded nothing as well.
Two crews of search dogs to assist
November 4, 2013 11:15 AM
On Tuesday night, November 5, two teams of handlers and dogs will arrive in Bethel to take part in the search for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka, said Lt. David Tracy of the Alaska State Troopers in Bethel.
The two dog crews will then travel to the Kialik River on Wednesday and take part in the search all that day, weather permitting. The use of the dogs will be very specific however and limited to the recovery efforts on the water, Lt. Tracy said.
The dogs and their handlers originate from the Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs or ASARD organization in Anchorage. They expect to return to Anchorage on Wednesday night.
Search still on hold due to weather
November 3, 2013
This morning, the Tuntutuliak SAR group attempted a return to the Kialik River to resume tne search for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka, however they were forced back by waves of up to 5 feet along the Kuskokwim River.
The Kialik River area is close to the coastline and is experiencing stronger winds than the Bethel area. A new low pressure system is moving into the area and may cause winds and waves to continue through Monday.
Big contingent of Eek volunteers assist in search
Volunteers "dragging" the bottom of the Kialik River
November 1, 2013 8:00 PM
The search party doing recovery operations on the Kialik River got a boost of help from the village of Eek (from the Yup'ik word Iik for "eyes") as 40 of their residents arrived to volunteer in the search for Nick Cooke and James L. Napoka today.
Over 60 volunteers dragged the river and combed the back woods today until the approaching storm's early front began to blow into the vicinity in the late afternoon.
Taking the arrival of the winds as a warning, some SAR crews began to disperse for their villages. Some went to Tuntutuliak to take refuge there, in order to get back to the search site as soon as possible after the storm blows over.
There were no results from the first day's recovery operations.
Approaching storm concerns searchers
November 1, 2013 3:30 PM
A low pressure system is churning in the Bering Sea region which is forecasted to arrive later today and begin affecting the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta through Saturday, including the Kialik River area where the search operations for Nick Cooke and James Napoka are on-going.
The storm is forecasted to bring gusty winds along the coast tonite, and there is concern that the front will push water into the search area and inundate the campsites used by the SAR volunteers.
"The SAR operation at the Kialik River may have to be suspended for safety reasons", said Mike Riley, President of BSAR. "We hate to do it, but we'll have to pull out our boys and tents out of that area if it gets too dangerous."
The SAR groups are camping in two locations, one next to the search area and one near a shelter cabin a couple bends above the search area. The nearest community is Tuntutuliak, 10 miles downstream of the Kialik River, and search crews may have to seek shelter there if needed.
The weather forecast call for 25 to 35 mph winds in the area, with gusts as strong as 45 mph. The Kialik River is located close to the coast line and in an area of the Kuskokwim River that gets rough during strong easterly to southwesterly winds. Snow, fog and rain are also forecasted.
If the SAR teams suspend operations due to dangerous weather, they will return to the search area as soon as the weather permits.
Search turns to recovery
November 1, 2013
After an agressive ground and air search campaign in the past week in the vicinity of the lower Kialik River for the two missing men--Nick Cooke and James Napoka--but turning up empty-handed, the SAR crews in the area will begin recovery operations at first light today.
The decision to change tactics was based on a meeting in Tuntutuliak last night with the elders.
The recovey operations will entail "dragging" the Kialik River in the area where the upturned boat was found. However, a small but experienced crew will continue searching for the men in the back sloughs, creeks and wooded areas in case the men are still on land.
In other developments, the Alaska State Troopers have decided to pull out their search operations as of last night; however, Bethel Search and Rescue crews and other villages SARs will continue their search efforts for a much longer time.
BSAR, on behalf of itself and other search crews, would like to thank the Alaska State Troopers for their support in this and other search and rescue operations in the past.
Intensive search comes up empty
October 31, 2013 8:00 PM
A group of volunteers prepares to head out today
Today, searchers trying to follow tracks and others combing the wooded areas for the two missing men were unable to find anything despite what they believed was an exhaustive search today.
"I think the searchers have pretty much covered all the lower Kialik River areas that we think are possible places where Nick Cooke and Jim Napoka could have gone to, if they were on land," said Mike Riley, head of the Bethel Search and Rescue group.
"In addition, the tracks the searchers have been following have not led to anything substantial," Riley added. "The tracks go and then disappear. Then they reappear elsewhere, but maybe one or two steps and are gone again."
Even so, the searchers combed the areas where the tracks were headed looking for the missing men, and for any additional leads they could find. Although plenty of items belonging to the men have been found, the searchers are coming up empty.
Tonight, the searchers gathered in Tuntutuliak for a meeting with the SAR group there and elders in the community, to discuss how the search has been going, as well as, to obtain advice from the elders and make decisions on the next phase of the search.
SARs continue searching
October 31, 2013, 12:30 pm
Volunteers from many villages from the Lower Kuskokwim resumed their search this morning for Nick Cooke and James Napoka, beginning from where they left off last night. Yesterday, searchers were following tracks in two different locations.
Boats park below the Nick Cooke/Jim Napoka boat and use the location as a starting point in the search
A smaller group of the many volunteers debrief and plan for the next part of their search
Volunteers bunk in a shelter cabin and tents at the end of the day
BSAR donation account opened
October 31, 2013
There is so much interest in this search that many calls are being made to the Bethel Search and Rescue headquarters, either to ask the latest information on the search or to make a donation of some kind.
Although such calls are welcome, we encourage all people at this time to be mindful that an active search is occurring and we need to keep those phone lines clear for searchers, troopers and others involved in the search to make reports to us.
For those people wishing to make cash donations for this search effort, we encourage you to visit a Wells Fargo Bank and make a donation to the "Bethel Search and Rescue Cooke/Napoka Fund, account #3877226633."
Thank you very much for your interest in BSAR's activities and for supporting our efforts in our search and rescue missions.
Evidence of the lost men still being found
October 30, 2013
As of today, items that are thought to have been carried in the boat used by Nick Cooke and James Napoka are still being found in the search grid around the lower Kialik River and are providing leads for searchers to narrow their focus while looking for the two men.
As of 4:00 pm today, no sign of the men themselves have been found, however, the searchers are still following footprints. About 60 searchers from the Lower Kuskokwim villages are in the area.
It has been one week now since Nick Cooke and James Napoka are said to have made their way to Tuntutuliak for a funeral and most likely experienced motor problems in the Helmick Point-Kialik River section of the Kuskokwim river. No one knows how the men became separated from their boat.
Storm for weekend forecasted
In that timeframe, the weather has been both good and bad. While the weather has cooperated for the most part, the worst of the weather occurred during the weekend after the men were reported missing, when an arctic cyclone pushing 70 mile-an-hour winds rammed the Y-K Delta and caused flooding in the lower Kuskokwim, including Bethel.
The storm was most likely remnants of Typhoon Francisco, which brushed Japan and made its way northeast to Alaska.
A less severe weather front is expected for Friday and/or Saturday, with the marine forecast for the Kuskokwim Delta to Etolin Straights calling for winds of up to 40 mph along the coast. The Kialik River is two bends from the mouth of the Kuskokwim River.
More footprints found leading away from the river
October 29, 2013
Today, searchers swarmed wide areas of the Kialik River in an effort to locate Nick Cooke of Bethel and James Lee Napoka of Tuluksak, which have been missing since Wednesday, October 23.
In doing so, the searchers found more foot tracks around 2:00 pm today along banks of sloughs and marshy areas leading away from the river which appeared to be headed toward Tuntutuliak.
A three-quarter full gas tank was also found one mile inland inside a slough with additional tracks leading away from it. Along these tracks branches were broken and tipped in a manner pointed in the direction the maker of the footprints was headed.
Searchers are now concentrating their search efforts in the area where the tracks were found.
James Napoka was last seen wearing a 1-piece dark snowsuit. Nick Cooke was wearing dark snow pants and white tennis shoes, but it's unknown what other outerwear he was wearing.
SAR groups from Bethel Search and Rescue, Kasigluk, Eek, Napaskiak, Tuntutuliak and Napakiak are participating in the search effort.
Tonight's weather forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies, isolated rain and snow showers along the coast in the evening. Then patchy fog after midnight, with lows around 30. Wind is expected from the northeast blowing 10 to 20 mph.
Lower Kuskokwim SAR teams searching for Nick Cooke of Bethel and Jim Napoka of Tuluksak
Lower Kuskokwim SAR teams searching for Nick Cooke of Bethel and Jim Napoka of Tuluksak
The Lund jonboat belonging to the two men rests on the west bank of Kialik River where it was pulled up after being found overturned in water on the muddy east bank of the river.
Oct. 29, 2013
On Friday, October 25, 2013, BSAR was notified of two missing persons that had traveled to Tuntutuliak for a funeral on October 23, but had not been heard of since. They are Nick Cooke of Bethel and Jim Lee Napoka of Tuluksak.
On the day of their travel, the weather was initially calm. After the funeral, the weather turned for the worse, with enough winds to kick up the Kuskokwim causing high surf on the main channels. In the next couple of days, water levels rose, causing minor flooding even in Bethel.
Since Friday, searchers scoured the upriver and downriver regions of the Kuskokwim River without any leads until Sunday.
On Sunday, October 27, a report was made to the BSAR Headquarters at 1:33 pm of an overturned Lund jonboat with an 88-hp Johnson motor at the mouth of Kialik River. Soon after, the 16-foot boat was recovered from the east bank of the Kialik and brought up to its west shore, where the ground is firmer and drier. After consultation with relatives of the missing persons, it was determined that the boat belonged to them.
Upon inspection of the vessel, it was determined that the motor was not running by the time it overturned. A coil on the motor appeared to have malfunctioned and the key was in the off position, and other signs on the motor indicate the men were trying to get it restarted. However, no one has reported seeing them in the Kialik River area and there is no indication of what happened or how the boat ended up overturned.
After the boat was recovered, tracks which searchers think belonged to the men or one of the men were found along the banks of the Kialik River raising their hopes that Cooke and Napoka are still alive and hunkered down somewhere. But so far, aside from various items from the boat, no sign of the men have been found as of today.
Despite poor weather conditions in the past couple days, about 20 boats consisting of SAR volunteers from nearly all villages from Bethel to Eek are participating in the search. The Alaska State Troopers are also participating with aerial searches using two aircraft.
Searchers are camping in tents and/or in a shelter cabin near the mouth of the Kialik River in order to remain in the area and search during daylight hours. The Kialik River is about 10 miles upriver from Tuntutuliak. The location is out of range for VHFs from Bethel and cellphone service from Tuntutuliak is almost non-existent.
The Alaska State Troopers are providing support for the search.
Nick Cooke is the son of attorney Chris Cooke, a former Superior Court Judge in Bethel and the late Margaret Nick Cooke of Nunapitchuk. Nick is also the brother of Ana Hoffman, CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation and recently-elected co-Chair of AFN.
More coverage of the search by other news sources:
KYUK Boat found in Lower Kuskokim SAR
Alaska Native News Search for Southwest Alaska boaters
The Alaska Dispatch More than 20 people continue search
Anchorage Daily News Search continues for 2 men missing