John Toyukak, 01-06-02

Manokotak man found drowned in Weary River
ACCIDENT: One man lives after water claims snowmobile.

By Anne Marie Tavella, Anchorage Daily News
(Published: January 8, 2002)

A 40-year-old Manokotak man apparently drowned over the weekend while waiting to be rescued in the Weary River.

A search-and-rescue team from Manokotak, 25 miles southwest of Dillingham, found John Toyukak's body about 2:30 p.m. Sunday submerged in 3 feet of water.

Toyukak and Christian Tugatuk, 35, also of Manokotak, were returning to the village by snowmachine from Dillingham about 8 p.m. Saturday in darkness and blowing snow when the machine fell into a small section of open water, Tugatuk said.

Tugatuk waded through the waist-deep water to the bank a short distance away and called Toyukak to follow him, he said. But Toyukak, who was sitting on the handle bars with his feet on the snowmachine's seat, would not get into the water, and Tugatuk said he was unable to coax him in.

"He told me to go get help and to tell his mother that he loves her," Tugatuk said.

When Tugatuk left, the water was nearly up to Toyukak's shins, Tugatuk said.

"I was hoping he'd be OK on the sno-go," he said.

Tugatuk walked about nine miles back to the village, arriving about 1 p.m. Sunday.

"I walked home all night in the dark until it got bright," he said. "I knew if I stopped, I'd give up, so I'd rest a little bit and keep walking."

Both men had been drinking, Tugatuk said.

When the search party arrived at the scene, the snowmachine was visible beneath the water, but there was no sign of Toyukak, said Melvin Andrew, the village public safety officer.

"They looked for tracks. Finding none, they pulled the snowmachine out of the water," he said.

Kevin Stepan, a member of the search party, said he found Toyukak's body beneath the water by poking around with a tree branch.

"I was searching the bottom when I found a soft spot," Stepan said. "I took off my jacket, reached in the water and pulled him out."

The exact time and cause of death could not be determined, Andrew said. Toyukak's body will be sent to the state medical examiner for an autopsy, Alaska State Troopers said. The plane to take his body to Anchorage landed in Manokotak around 11:30 a.m. Monday. Andrew said the weather was marginal and he did not know when the plane would be able to take off.

Manokotak is a village of about 400 people in Southwest Alaska. Toyukak's death is felt through the entire village, Andrew said. "It's a small community. Everybody knows everybody," he said.

John Toyukak's brother, Moses Toyukak Sr., said his brother was known for being a hard worker in the village. He had worked at the airport and helped weatherize the village for winter. He also loved to hunt and fish.

"He did many, many things that we will miss him for," Toyukak said.

Numerous people in the village have expressed to Toyukak their sadness at the loss of his brother, he said.

"To me, he was my younger brother, but I also lost a very good friend," Toyukak said.

Reporter Anne Marie Tavella can be reached at or 257-4343.