JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – A search for a hiker who had a run-in with bears ended when she made her way to a road and waved down a driver, a day-and-a-half after she was last heard from.
A ground search and rescue volunteer notified Alaska State Troopers at about 5:30 p.m. June 16 that Fina Kiefer waved him down for help. She had hiked down a mountain and walked out of the woods about a mile from a trailhead.
Kiefer, who was hiking the 13.6-mile Pioneer Peak Trail alone June 14, was reported in distress to the Alaska State Troopers early June 15 after she communicated with her husband and expressed concern about multiple bears nearby, according to the AST.
“She was chased off the trail by bears and couldn’t find it again,” said Senior Master Sgt. Evan Budd, superintendent of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center and full-time member of the Alaska Air National Guard. “She had waterproof matches and was able to start a fire last night.”
A 207th UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter and crew with the Alaska Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, searched the Pioneer Peak Trail area throughout the day June 15 and dropped off ground search teams with Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and MAT+SAR Search & Rescue at locations along the trail to aid in the search.
The Alaska Air National Guard searched overnight with pararescue personnel and aircrew with the 210th, 211th, and 212th Rescue Squadrons in an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and HC-130 Combat King II aircraft. The Army Guard Black Hawk resumed the aerial search June 16. The joint effort between Air and Army National Guard search and rescue teams and the AK RCC continued for 35 hours, with support from the AK RCC.
The hiker spotted the helicopters but the Guard aircrews couldn’t see her.
“It’s easy to see and hear an aircraft in the sky but can be very challenging to spot a person at night under canopy,” Budd said.
“Being prepared for the unexpected is critical in the Alaskan outdoors,” said Budd. “What you plan as a day hike can quickly turn into a multiday ordeal.”
Budd said that in addition to carrying bear spray and matches, he recommends brightly colored clothing, a personal locator beacon, and a satellite communications device. A small, portable strobe light can also help pinpoint your location, but the beacon is key.
“Mrs. Kiefer also carried with her an amazing amount of grit and determination to return to her family,” said Budd. “We were so relieved to learn that she was safe.”
Kiefer was taken to a hospital to be checked out.
The search effort included the Alaska National Guard, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, MAT+SAR, Anchorage Nordic Ski Patrol and Alaska Solstice Search Dogs.