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search and rescue volunteer disappears in Interior Alaska

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15 Oct 2011

Fairbanks, AK - It would appear that Good Samaritan Gerald DeBerry has joined the ranks of those gone missing in the wilds of the 49th state. Friends of DeBerry, who on Thursday continued an informal search for his body in rugged country 70 miles north of Fairbanks, can only hope for the best. People familiar with October weather conditions figured DeBerry for dead even before Alaska State Troopers decided to scale back a three-day search, Wednesday night.

"They had three helicopters for two days going everywhere," said Paul Potvin, an old DeBerry friend and the owner of the Long Creek Trading Post where searchers gathered. "They had an infrared helicopter at night. They pulled everyone off the mountain. They went all over it."

The mountain was swept with a high-tech Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) scanner by the highly-trained crew of an Alaska Air National Guard Pavehawk helicopter. An FLIR is designed to make warm bodies otherwise invisible appear magically on a screen displaying blue and red images. The technology is sophisticated enough to detect a North Slope polar bear sleeping in a den beneath the snow.

It was not sophisticated enough to find DeBerry.

"It's a mystery," Potvin said. "The four-wheeler is gone. Something had to have happened to him. He didn't get lost. Everybody agrees with that. He's been out there way too many times to get lost. That's the most baffling part."

DeBerry is by no means the first, nor the last, to disappear in Alaska. These mysteries happen with a certainly regularity in the only state that remains largely unconquered by civilization. Beyond a few cities, Alaska remains as much wilderness as it was a century ago. Some contend it might actually be more of a wilderness, given the modern-day disappearance of gold prospectors who once roamed the country like human caribou. Alaska's Native peoples now cluster in villages, where before they were more nomadic, forced to spread out widely when, pre-modernity, they depended fully for survival on fish and game. Alaska is a lean land, and one valley won't support many hunters if they all must be sure of a kill to survive.

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