Sunday, November 29, 2015

Underwater Search in Huslia

I recently took a four day trip to Huslia, Alaska in an attempt to help the village locate a local man  who fell through the ice on the Koyukuk River.  For the second time this year I found myself mixing my search and rescue skills with my career as a marine geophysicist.  This time it was more like work than volunteer as TerraSond was hired by the Huslia Tribal Council to provide technical equipment and software with an operator and data processor (me).   A little more than a day after the initial call I was on my way to Fairbanks where I picked up the side scan sonar and then caught a flight with Wright Air on a Cessna Caravan to Huslia.

Huslia is an Athabascan village of about 300 people on the Koyukuk River.  When I arrived the man had fallen through the ice over a week prior.  People had come from all around and there were somewhere between 30 and 50 people helping with the search.  Within a few hours of arriving I was on the river with a team of assistants.  My assistants would lower the side scan sonar through slots in the ice and then tow the sonar along and pull a sled along side while I operated the computer.  After a few hours the sun went down and I headed back to the community hall for dinner.  I spent the evening reviewing the sonar data.

The second day was similar with temperatures hovering around freezing; we covered a lot of ground.  By the end of the second day we had surveyed a section of the river 1400ft long by 400ft wide.  That night the temperatures dropped and when I returned to the river the next morning it was 15 degrees below zero.  Maybe it was the temperature, maybe it was something else, but that morning the sonar would not power up properly.  I spent all day trying to fix it and eventually, after several conversations with a technician at the manufacturer, we determined it was not field fixable.  So, after only a day and half of searching it was done, and its not like you can get another highly specialized sonar on Thanksgiving Day in Huslia, or anywhere in Alaska for that matter.

On my last day in Huslia, I trained a few of the local guys to use a recreational grade sonar that can make similar, but lower quality, images of the river bottom.  I wish the community the best of luck in their search.

Looking out over the Koyukuk River
Pulling the sonar along slots cut in the river ice
A group helping me review the sonar data
The Huslia Community Hall
Sonar opened up for repair

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