Stay Off Lower Kusko River Ice Until It Refreezes, BSAR Warns

Jan 30, 2019

The Kuskokwim River ice in front of the Bethel seawall on January 29, 2019.
Credit Anna Rose MacArthur / KYUK

After an extended warming period, the lower Kuskokwim River is currently not safe for any kind of vehicle. Within the past week, a series of travelers have broken through the unstable ice; all have been rescued.

Bethel Search and Rescue member Earl Samuelson says that the recent meltdown filled the river trails with water.

“I’ve been calling the river a slush puppy lately,” Samuelson said.

Temperatures are now dropping, and water pockets are beginning to refreeze. Samuelson warns that it’s easy to break through the thin ice forming on top of these pockets, and multiple accidents have already occurred.

A four-wheeler broke through a marked trail between the Johnson River and Tuntutuliak; a vehicle broke through a marked trail near the lower end of Church Slough; another man lost his sled when it broke through Church Slough; and a snowmachine crashed through the mouth of the Gweek River. All the travelers were rescued.

Samuelson says that another reason to stay off the river at this time is to allow the ice to smooth over.

“To be considerate, it would be nice to just let the river freeze,” he said. Otherwise it’ll be a rough, rutted, and broken trail when the river ice strengthens.

Samuelson says that most of those needing rescue were traveling alone, and he advises that anyone who does travel to do so with a buddy. Samuelson also reminds people that travel at this time puts not only the traveler in jeopardy but also any rescuers who respond.

Anyone needing help from Bethel Search and Rescue can call 907-545-HELP (4357).