Brandon Anaver 2011-01-23
Charlie L. George 2011-01-22

Cold, wind blamed for 2 deaths in Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
EXPOSURE: Deaths in Kipnuk, St. Mary's blamed on brutal winter elements.

By KYLE HOPKINS,, Published: January 26th, 2011

Prayers rattled over the VHF radio and villagers wrapped in beaver hats searched frozen boat cabins as 20 or more volunteers scoured the coastal community of Kipnuk for 14-year-old Brandon Anaver.

It was Sunday night. Some homes in the village had lost phone service or electricity earlier in the day and 4-foot snow drifts clung to buildings, villagers said.

Kipnuk resident Matthew Smith couldn't see the house next door in the blinding whiteout. "(The wind) was coming from northeast and blowing 50, 60 miles an hour," he said. "That had to drop the wind chill below 50 (below), easy."

Anaver, the missing boy, was dressed in "fall-weight" clothes and sneakers when he left a friend's house and vanished at about 4 p.m, according to Alaska State Troopers. He apparently lost his way and died in the cold -- the second exposure death of the weekend in Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, troopers said.

No foul play is suspected.

"We think that he put his head down when he was walking to protect it from the wind and cold. He may have missed his turn home without realizing it," said troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters.

The hike home should have been about a quarter of a mile. Searchers spotted Anaver's body a mile and a half from the village, troopers said.

The other death was discovered Saturday, when troopers learned the body of 70-year-old Charlie L. George had been found near the high school in the Lower Yukon River village of St. Mary's.

The weather was to blame in that death too, troopers said, although alcohol also appeared to play a role.

The temperature in St. Mary's had dipped to 15 below overnight, with winds averaging about 10 mph on Saturday, said Rick Thoman, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

The exact temperature in Kipnuk on the night of Anaver's death isn't as clear. The National Weather Service stopped receiving readings from the village after 5 p.m. -- a problem that usually surfaces when a village loses phone service.

It was 11 below without the wind chill at the time, Thoman said.

The village's wind gauge gave no reading at all. It is frozen, Smith said.

The Yup'ik community is home to about 670 people, roughly four miles from the windy Bering Sea coast and 85 miles southwest of Bethel.

Visibility had dipped to 10 feet, said Paul Paul, the traditional council president.

Anaver faced those conditions as he headed home, according to troopers.

By about 8 p.m., tribal police officer Bernie John and a group of volunteers began a search for the teenager, their headlamps bouncing in the dark.

Villagers brought coffee, seal oil and "Eskimo ice cream" to the public safety building as 20 or more people joined the rescue attempt, said Jimmy Paul, tribal administrator.

"They went out like a mile to the dump, where the landfill is," Paul said. Searchers went house to house. Villagers were asked to check their steam houses for the missing boy.

Someone found some tracks, but they couldn't be followed as the weather deteriorated, troopers said.

The search resumed at daylight. At about 12:30 p.m., snowmachiners making a sweep of the area found Anaver on the tundra more than a mile outside of town, Jimmy Paul said.

He was to the west of his friend's house -- in the opposite direction from his home.

Read The Village, the ADN's blog about rural Alaska, at Twitter updates: Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334.