Officials have called off the search for a missing teacher and business leader after a devastating landslide in Haines, Alaska, on Dec. 2.
The Alaska National Guard had been assisting in search-and-rescue efforts since Dec. 3, when an Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk transported rescuers from Juneau to Haines, where less than 2,000 people reside.
Members of Alaska’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment safely delivered 1,200 pounds of medical and rescue supplies, three teams of search dogs, and rescuers from numerous partner organizations including the Alaska State Troopers and Juneau Mountain Rescue. The aircrew then provided aerial observation of the scene, according to a National Guard press release. All rescuers were rapid tested for COVID-19.
Six people were initially unaccounted for in the 600-foot wide landslide, a spokesman for the state troopers told Military Times. By Thursday, four had been safely located.
Jenae Larson, a 23-year-old kindergarten teacher, and David Simmons, a 30-year-old entrepreneur, remain missing, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Simmons’ home, where Larson rented an upstairs apartment, was directly in the path of the landslide.
A spokesman for the state troopers said Tuesday that it is unlikely Simmons and Larson survived.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared a disaster on Saturday after 12 communities reported damage from the record-breaking storms that cause the landslide.
Search efforts were called off at the recommendation of geologists due to continued rain and the likelihood of additional landslides, according to the state troopers. If new information or evidence becomes available or the slide area becomes safe to search, troopers will reevaluate their efforts at that time.
“At this point it’s just not safe to have searchers in the slide area according to our state geologists that were down there in Haines,” state trooper spokesman Austin McDaniel said.
The Alaska National Guard confirmed on Tuesday that all Guard resources had returned to their stations.
Coast Guard cutter Anacapa also assisted with search efforts in the inlet at the bottom of the landslide.
“The partnerships throughout the multiple organizations involved in the response efforts for this disaster reflect how the Alaskan community comes together in times of need,” Said Capt. Stephen White, commander Coast Guard Sector Juneau. “We offer our condolences to all the residents of Haines who are affected.”
Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.