A Quinhagak snowmachiner was found dead of apparent hypothermia Wednesday after his snowmachine drove into a lead of open water, according to Alaska State Troopers.
A Friday AST dispatch says a Bethel trooper were sent to Quinhagak to investigate the death of 52-year-old Wilbur Small. A village public safety officer told troopers just after 12:30 p.m. Wednesday that Small’s body had been located on the Quinhagak-Eek snowmachine trail.
“(Small’s) snow machine was also found about 500 feet away, submerged up to the cowling, in a creek north of Quinhagak,” troopers wrote. “The investigation indicates that Small drove the snow machine into an open lead of water and got wet, which ultimately led to hypothermia and his death.”
According to AST spokesperson Beth Ipsen, the incident took place after Small went snowmachining Tuesday. He was seen on the trail that day, but search efforts for him didn’t begin until Wednesday morning.
“Apparently he had left the day prior, and his wife didn’t know he was gone,” Ipsen said. “Nobody thought he was out of place until his wife woke up and he wasn’t there.”
Ipsen says a VHF radio call about Small went out in the area, and Quinhagak’s VPSO was notified. Small’s body was found by members of his family.
“Local people went out searching for him, and they found him out on the trail,” Ipsen said.
There was no indication that Small had tried to build any form of shelter, and Ipsen says it’s not clear whether he accidentally drove his snowmachine into the creek or had tried “skipping” it across the water.
“We don’t know if he tried to get the snowmachine out and got wet, or if he just got wet when the snowmachine went in,” Ipsen said.
According to Ipsen snowmachiners should avoid skipping, since it's dangerous, and take precautions when traveling in spring.
“It’s breakup time, the ice is unstable -- you want to test the ice before you can go,” Ipsen said. “It’s also good to let people know where you are going and when you’ll be back.”
Small’s body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy. His next of kin have been notified.
Contact Chris Klint