Search continues for missing Nome hiker
UPDATE Friday, July 1:
Other than the hiking boots and waders belonging to Balderas Troopers found inside his truck, the four-day search has yielded no other signs of him thus far. Three search and rescue dog teams from Fairbanks PAWS on arrived June 30, and two more dogs from MAT SAR will arrive later today. According to a trooper dispatch, the dogs found some indication, but quickly lost the scent.
Multiple helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes were deployed to survey the area from above. The USCG, which deployed two Jayhawk helicopters, discontinued their search on June 29. Nome Search and Rescue chartered a Bering Air helicopter for the first three days, and is continuing to search on ATVs.
The Troopers are continuing their search, as is the National Park Service. A Civil Air Patrol from Fairbanks flew in place of the USCG helicopters.
Nome Volunteer Fire Chief Jim West, Jr. said the search is not over yet, at least not for the Nome SAR team. West wouldn’t speculate on whether the search and rescue has turned into a recovery, but said Nome SAR will continue as for as long as possible. “We’re giving it our all… we’re going as long as we can.” In addition to volunteers, SAR had 14 inmates from the Seaside Center canvas an area near the road on Thursday. Several of Balderas’s family members and friends are in Nome and are aiding in the search however they can.
Going forward, West said there are several more possible avenues for Nome SAR to explore. There is the possibility of attaching a go pro to a helicopter and sending the footage to a specialist, as well as using a drone to survey the area. West said the searchers have also examined different scenarios, such as a hit and run incident.
In response to the situation, Balderas’s friends asked for monetary support over social media. Two Nome residents created a YouCaring account, and comments, prayers and funds poured in. As of Friday morning, 330 supporters donated over $34,000 to the page.
The funds went toward family travel expenses and continued search efforts for the Texas native. With the account goal set at $30,000, excess donations went to Nome SAR volunteers.
The Finding Joseph Facebook page earned over 1,000 likes, is helping to alert people across the country about the situation, and gathered support for the crowdfunding account. On the ground, dozens of people volunteered to aid in the search and some donated food for the Nome SAR team, who West said was “under a great amount of stress.” “Nome is definitely a giving community,” he added.
ORIGINAL STORY AS APPEARED IN THE JUNE 30 EDITION OF THE NOME NUGGET:
Joseph Balderas, a 36-year-old Nome resident, was reported missing to the Alaska State Troopers at 9:30 a.m. on Monday morning. Balderas was last seen leaving Nome on Sunday afternoon, and was reported missing after he did not show up for work at the Nome courthouse the next day.
The vehicle Balderas had been driving was found at mile 44 of the Nome-Council Highway, where Troopers believe he was hiking and mountain-running near the East Fork of the Solomon River. Troopers went to the site of the vehicle but could not locate Balderas in the immediate area.
On Tuesday morning, Nome Fire Chief Jim West Jr. said about 46 people are involved in the search, which includes Nome Search and Rescue, the Troopers and the U.S. Coast Guard. Nome SAR spotters chartered a Bering Air helicopter, a Trooper super cub airplane flew over the area, and the USCG deployed two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters to assist in the search. Nome SAR is utilizing multiple all terrain vehicles and set up a remote communications station in the field.
Balderas’ waders and hiking boots were found inside the vehicle, but West said there was no indication of the direction he went. On the June 27, searchers looked east, toward White Mountain. On Tuesday they searched the close vicinity where his vehicle was found. Staff from the Nome Community Center, where Balderas was also employed in Youth Services, canvased the ridge to the west of the river.
West said Balderas was in good shape physically and was known to be an avid hiker and ridge runner. He typically carried bear spray, but not a gun. From what West gleaned from photos, he said Balderas wore light, layered clothing and carried a small green backpack. No sign of Balderas has been found thus far.
West said that, as long as the weather remains decent, Nome SAR will continue to search for Balderas for another four days, until July 2.