No clues found in fall search for missing Joseph Balderas
Last week, the City of Nome organized a last search effort to look for Joseph Balderas, a Nome man who was reported missing in late June.
Extensive searches in June and July have not yielded any results and city search and rescue volunteers had planned for a fall search of the area where Balderas was presumed to have disappeared. Balderas’ truck was parked at mile 44 of the Nome-Council Highway, and searches were conducted in a 15-by-15-mile area around the truck’s location, the East Fork of the Solomon River and the adjacent tundra and mountain ridges. Dense foliage of brush made it hard for aerial and ground searchers to detect any signs of Balderas or any clue that would point towards locating the 36-year-old, who was described as a fit and avid runner and hiker.
According to Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Charlie Cross, Balderas had told a friend some time before his disappearance that he had planned on hiking a mountain ridge near where his truck was found. An eyewitness saw Balderas on Saturday, June 25 standing near his truck around mile 44 of the Nome-Council Highway. The next day, on Sunday, Balderas’ roommate heard him leave the house. Another eyewitness saw Balderas’ truck drive that day on the highway near mile 28. These are the last clues left of the man’s whereabouts.
When Balderas didn’t show up for work at the Nome courthouse on Monday, June 27, he was reported missing.
Troopers opened a missing person investigation and began a search that was called off after nearly 2,300 man-hours of searching on the ground, 40 hours of aerial searches and search dog teams were unsuccessful in finding Balderas or any sign of him.
The only items that were found during the search were a woman’s sock, a tattered fishing pole and a snow mitten — none of the items were presumed to have a connection to Balderas.
Nome City Manager Tom Moran functioned as the incident commander during last week’s search, which was initiated by the city. The city council in a meeting on Oct. 10 authorized $10,000 to conduct the search of the same area, hoping to find something, even just a clue, now that the dense foliage has fallen and the landscape has turned brown and gray. The Alaska State Troopers supported the search by providing insurance for the two cadaver search dogs and their handlers. In an interview with the Nugget Moran said despite of two days searching on the ground with two cadaver dog teams and accompanying Nome Search and Rescue volunteers, and helicopter searches, nothing was found. “Absolutely nothing,” said Moran. Moran said that in the summer an Arizona company was hired to conduct a search and rescue probability study to refine the area where searchers should be looking. Moran said they pinpointed four places that – based on the terrain, the location of the truck and the information available at the time — would be the most logical places to look for him. Nothing was found.
Also no sings of a bear kill or bear scratch were found. Nome Volunteer Fire Dept. Lt. Paul Kosto, who functioned as the air commander during last week’s search said that with the leaves off the bushes, visibility was near perfect. “We probably had the most perfect conditions, with the leaves off the bushes,” he said. “With a 100 percent certainty I can now say he is not there.”
Kosto spent three hours with other spotters in the helicopter on both days. He said the first day, the helicopter searched a four-by-eight-mile square; when they found nothing, they extended the area to include the Big Hurrah mine, flew to Skookum Pass, up the Casa DePaga and Solomon Rivers. Kosto said he found a four-inch piece of green tarp, a discarded oil jug, bones of a reindeer and a decaying bone of an unidentified animal that was molding on both ends – again none of the items had a connection to Balderas. “What started out [in June and July] as a search and recovery, it now turned into an elimination search,” Kosto said. “We have eliminated that he is there.”
Moran that Balderas’ family members were in Nome for the search. The family still offers a $10,000 reward for tips. Moran said this elimination search report will be forwarded to the family. Since it is a state case, they can take the information to the state authorities to potentially trigger a criminal investigation.
According to AST Sgt. Cross, the case is considered an open mission persons case and any new information would be followed up on.