National Park Service rangers Monday recovered the bodies of a hiking couple who went missing along the Sanford River in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska the agency said Tuesday. Rochelle Renken and Michael Huffman, both 62 and from Columbia, Missouri, were on a six-day backpacking trip in the park but did not meet a scheduled air-taxi pickup Wednesday, reports the Anchorage Daily News.
“Based on the evidence that was found by searchers, it appears that the couple attempted to cross the Sanford River near the toe of the glacier and were swept away by the powerful, glacial river,” the NPS said in a statement. “The deaths appear to be accidental. No foul play is suspected,” the agency added.
The couple was on a trip of a lifetime that included traveling through Canada, said Margie Steigerwald, a spokeswoman for the park. They had recently retired from the Missouri Department of Conservation. She was a biologist and he was a forester, Steigerwald said.
They were dropped off June 22 by an air taxi operator at the Sanford Glacier airstrip less than 2 miles from where their bodies were found, the agency said. Search crews over the weekend found two gear-filled backpacks and other camping items along a 7-mile stretch of the Sanford River. The couple had planned to hike six days from the Sanford River, crossing the Dadina Plateau and ending at the Dadina River.
“The NPS reminds backpackers that river crossings are always dangerous and that rivers and streams that are sometimes passable become impassable, even for experts, after rain events or on sunny days with rapid glacial melt,” the statement said.
In a separate incident in Alaska, a 32-year-old Minnesota woman died and two people, including a small boy, were injured Wednesday when a snow “ceiling” at the foot of a glacier in Portage Valley collapsed on them, Alaska State Troopers said. Brittany Katherine Boegel was trapped under old avalanche debris which collapsed on her in a “hollowed-out compressed snow mass which resembled a snow cave,” during a hike on Byron Glacier near Portage Lake in Portage Valley.
“Bystanders and family members were able to free Boegel from the ice and began CPR and lifesaving efforts,” troopers said.
A 6-year-old boy and an adult male, whose names were not released, suffered minor injuries in the collapse at Byron Glacier, about 40 miles southeast of Anchorage. “Multiple people” had walked under the snow ceiling, troopers said. It’s always best to be wary around snow or ice caves, especially when the temperatures are starting to warm, as they can collapse at any minute without warning.