Gerald DeBerry 2011-10-10

Man lost during search feared dead

The Associated Press, October 15th, 201

FAIRBANKS -- A Fairbanks man who disappeared during a successful search for a missing family friend is now feared dead.

A scaled back aerial and ground search continues for Gerald DeBerry, Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Kevin Yancey told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

"It's a body recovery now. We're looking for someone who is not alive," Yancey said.

DeBerry, 53, went missing Monday in an area northeast of Fairbanks while helping to look for Melinda Straetz, who got lost while four-wheeling in the area with a group of friends. When last seen, DeBerry was wearing an insulated flannel jacket, a sweatshirt and jeans -- considered insufficient as overnight lows have dropped into the teens.

Searchers are frustrated that they can't even find DeBerry's four-wheeler, Yancey said. They believe he may have driven it into a hole, or into a stream that covered the vehicle and carried the body away.

"It's kind of bothersome -- we know he's there and we just can't find him," Yancey said.

Trooper spokeswoman Meghan Peters said a member of DeBerry's party gave him the flannel jacket because "he had mentioned to them that he was getting really cold."

Aerial search efforts initially included two trooper helicopters, two trooper planes, and military aircraft from both Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force bases, as well as a night-flying Pavehawk helicopter from Elmendorf. Two Civil Air Patrol craft continue to search.

Ground search efforts have been conducted solely by volunteers since Wednesday, when officials withdrew their ground crews.

"We are not supporting the ground rescue. It's all friends and family," Yancey said. "The family has done a great job of getting things organized up there -- a phenomenal job. I wish every search was this organized."