An SOS message from an InReach device on the Goodpaster River near Delta Junction was received by the International Emergency Response Coordination Center at 12:03 pm on Friday. In turn, the center relayed the information to the Fairbanks-based Alaska State Troopers.
According to the report, 66-year-old Gary W. Pitt of Mt Vernon, Texas, capsized while being in a river boat on the river and had become trapped under a log jam. Gary and his son Gary Pitt II, had been out on their annual hunting trip in the area.
According to a posting by rhe son, Gary, who was with his father at the time, the jet-powered watercraft had sucked up something into the jet and became disabled and the boat was swept downriver sideways before striking a logjam in the river and swamping instantly. Pitt’s son was swept out of the boat by the current, while Pitt was able to climb onto the jam.
Pitt’s son, Gary, was under the jam for approximately 45 seconds, before feeling himself being pulled from under the jam, he surfaced only to find his father in the water as well. He believes his father was attempting to rescue him and fell into the river. Fighting the current, Pitt’s son was able to gain a foothold and climb onto the jam and grabbed his father by the coat sleeves in an attempt to save him. He was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempt, and his father went limp and was swept away. Gary crawled around the jam looking, but could not locate his father.
G. Pitt was able to retrieve a backpack from the sunken boat before crawling off of the jam onto a little island connected to it. He made additional trips to the sunken boat to retrieve other items, including the InReach. He texted a number on the InReach. A short time later Gary said he saw a friend coming down the river and flagged him down. Another person in the passing boat, knew how to operate the InReach and sent an SOS. Soon, the UH-60 Blackhawk responded to the area and picked up Pitt’s son to transported him to the hospital. But, once there, he refused treatment, as the troopers were en-route to interview him about the incident.
AST initiated a search utilizing a Fort Wainwright-based UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, the trooper A-Star helicopter based out of Anchorage and a fixed-wing aircraft out of Delta Junction. Volunteer searchers and cabin owners in the area also took up the search in personal watercraft. But, even with the use of water rescue/dive members with underwater cameras out of Fort Wainwright, searchers were unable to locate Pitt.
After days of searching, efforts to locate Pitt have been unsuccessful.
Gary Pitt’s wife of 45 years, De’Ette Pitt, originally from Kenai, had passed away earlier this year, on May 31st at the Titus Regional Medical Center. She too spent time camping on the Goodpaster River, she cared for the children as the family hunted.