ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The body of an Alaska National Guardsman who went missing during a February hike in Chugach State Park has been found, Alaska State Troopers say.
According to a dispatch posted online, the remains of 26-year-old Nephi Soper were found by search teams near Tanaina Lake at around 11:17 a.m. Sunday. Troopers say the location was not along Soper’s intended travel route.
The discovery comes as a result of a renewed two day search for the hiker that was launched on Saturday, troopers say. The search involved crews from troopers, National Guard, Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs and several others.
The remains were recovered and taken to the State Medical Examiner. The exact cause of Soper’s death, or the reason he veered off-course are currently unknown, according to trooper Sergeant Michael Zweifel.
“We hope to gather some information once the medical examiner gets to examine his body. Maybe we’ll find some notes or some kind of indications in his belongings that were found on him that would indicate what happened but at this point we just don’t know,” Zweifel said.
“He was in a high avalanche area where he was found, so whether it was an avalanche that caught him or if it was just the elements we just don’t know at this point,” he added.
Soper was last seen alive on the evening of February 18, when a taxi dropped him off at the Prospect Heights Trailhead at around 7 p.m., according to Anchorage police. Soper planned on hiking from the trailhead to Long Lake before traversing between Tanaina and Koktoya peaks and into Ship Creek Valley.
“He planned on exiting on Arctic Valley Road and then onto Fort Richardson to attend training,” troopers wrote in a dispatch.
When Soper failed to attend training, his colleagues began to worry and a massive search effort involving more than half a dozen agencies was launched to try and find him. Heavy snow and bad weather in the Chugach Mountains that week hampered search efforts and after finding no clues to Soper’s whereabouts after six days, troopers called off the search.
According to the Alaska National Guard, Soper was a specialist combat medic who was part of a long range surveillance company. Col. Lee Knowles told Channel 2 in February that Soper’s company would regularly spend multiple days out in cold winter conditions and Soper was known to engage in outdoor activities like hiking and biking.
In a press release issued Sunday, the Alaska National Guard said that Soper was equipped with a large backpack and was prepared to hike through the Chugach Mountains. He was carrying his military ID tags when search teams found him this morning.
Adjutant General for the Alaska National Guard, Brig. Gen. Laurie Hummel released the following statement Sunday in response to the finding:
"We are thankful that, after three months of uncertainty, our Soldier has been located. We greatly appreciate the countless volunteers, Air Guardsmen and Army Guardsmen for providing their expertise in the search effort for Specialist Soper. Nephi Soper will always be an Alaska National Guardsman. His family is our family, and they will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”