Alaska state troopers have identified two men that died when their all-terrain vehicles broke through thinning ice on Church Slough Sunday night. They are Nelson C. Jackson, 47, and Ernest N. Demantle, 59, both from Akiak. Jackson and Demantle belonged to a group of five men on two ATVs that were headed toward Akiak from Bethel when they fell through the ice. Alcohol played a role in the incident.
The three survivors have also been identified: Reuben Charles, 43, Lawrence Charles, 32, and Raymond Lee, 55. Reuben and Lawrence come from Akiak, while Lee is from Bethel. They were treated for hypothermia in Bethel.
Someone spotted the travelers and reported them around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night. Bethel Search and Rescue volunteers Mark Leary and Charles Guest were first on the scene. They managed to rescue the survivors and recover the bodies, while surrounded by open holes.
Leary and Guest had to leave the bodies behind on shore because they didn’t have the capacity to bring them back to Bethel, even with the help of a hovercraft that arrived to assist. With the help of a helicopter from Anchorage on Monday morning, they finally brought the bodies back to Bethel. In a Monday interview on KYUK’s morning show, Coffee@KYUK, Guest and Leary said that the thin ice endangers rescue personnel too.
"I’m scared that we are going to have to go back out there if people don’t stop traveling. We may lose one of our own members if we have to keep going out there," Leary said.
February was the warmest month on record for Bethel in more than 90 years of record keeping. BSAR and state troopers warn travelers to stop all river travel because of the thin ice and open holes.
Grady Deaton contributed reporting.