Coast Guard rescues two Alaskans after 22 hour search in remote Aleutian Islands

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk crew hoisted two men from a skiff drifting approximately 14 miles south of Amchitka Island at about 9:30 p.m. in the Aleutian Islands Sunday following a 22 hour search by Coast Guard aircraft.

Rod Whitehead, 50, resident of Adak, and Bill Osterback, 35, resident of Sand Point, were returning to Amatignak Island Saturday aboard a 15-foot fiberglass skiff, described as an old Navy landing craft, to pick up four surveyors when their vessel’s engine seized leaving them adrift in 28 mph winds and 12 foot seas without survival gear or extra supplies aboard.

The four surveyors on the island witnessed the skiff become disabled and made a makeshift boat, paddled to the research vessel Larisa M and called the Coast Guard at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

An HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak was launched and arrived on scene at about 6 a.m. Sunday. The crew completed an initial search by 7:30 a.m. with no sign of the two men and returned to base for refueling. Reduced visibility and a low ceiling forced the crew to search with radar only.

Another Coast Guard HC-130 aircraft launched, located the two men at about 2:30 p.m. and dropped supplies including a radio. The Hercules remained on scene until the Jayhawk crew arrived at 7:40 p.m. to hoist the men aboard.

The two men were transferred to awaiting emergency medical services in Adak and treated for dehydration.

“Our sincere appreciation to all the crews who searched for us, we were quite a needle in a haystack floating in a small craft in the middle of Amchitka Pass,” said Whitehead.

Other responders include Air National Guard, Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley and Coast Guard Cutter Spar.

“Rescue operations in Alaska are generally complicated by extreme weather and distances, this one was no exception,” said Capt. Michael Inman, chief of response for the 17th Coast Guard District, “Credit for their successful execution generally belongs to inter-agency cooperation and good Samaritans.”

The surveyors, with no seamanship skills, remain aboard the Larisa M. A qualified operator is en route aboard the fishing vessel Heritage to pilot the research vessel back to Adak.

Air Station Kodiak was involved in four other search and rescue cases over the weekend. The Larisa M is a 50-foot vessel homeported in Adak, the Heritage is also from Adak.

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