Alaska State Troopers received a call from MATCOM Dispatch at 6:48 pm on Wednesday reporting that a vessel was sinking near Whittier.
The vessel that was reported sinking was one of two with two persons each that had been out hunting on Esther Island and were returning to Whittier on Wednesday afternoon. The two vessels were traveling separately back to port.
The first of the vessels arrived back in Whittier at 3:30 pm and then had departed for Anchorage and were well on their way when the second boat, a 20-foot aluminum Lund skiff, driven by 28-year-old Luki Akelkok of Dillingham, encountered worsening weather.
Soon, the skiff, laden with Akelkok, his passenger, 28-year-old Stefan Weingarth of Anchorage, four deer and two seals, found themselves in 40-knot winds, six-foot seas and taking on water. Weingarth called the hunters already bound for Anchorage and informed them that they were five minutes out from Whittier but their bow was underwater and they were sinking.
USCG D17 Juneau and USCG Sector Anchorage were contacted and informed of the dire situation and the Coast Guard launched an aircraft and vessel to aid the stricken mariners. Their attempt was fruitless as the inclement weather slowed their response.
At 10:13 pm on Wednesday night USCG reported finding the skiff and one person deceased and wearing a life jacket approximately five miles northeast of Whittier in Passage Canal, near Trinity Point. They remained on-scene to continue the search for the other missing boater.
Troopers reported that “At 3:10 am, Whittier PD met with USCG vessel crews to receive and tentatively identify the recovered remains as Stefan Weingarth.” Akelkok remained missing and unaccounted for.
As the search continued, winds picked up to 50-60 knots further hampering efforts. Alaska Wildlife Troopers responded to Whittier to assist as well as the cutter Mustang from Seward. A Coast Guard helo was also dispatched from Kodiak, but attempts to locate Akelkok were fruitless.
Weingarth’s remains were transported to the State Medical examiner’s office in Anchorage and the next of kin for both boaters were apprised of the situation.
The search for Akelkok continues.