Troopers suspend search for Nome man, volunteers continue looking

  • By LISA PHU
  • Tuesday, July 5, 2016 9:49pm
  • News

The Alaska State Troopers suspended the active search and rescue for a missing Nome man on July 4 pending any new leads, according to the trooper dispatch. But an independent search is still going on.

Joseph Balderas, 36, was reported missing June 27 when he didn’t show up to his job as a law clerk at the Nome court. Balderas, originally from Lubbock, Texas, lived in Juneau in 2013, where his girlfriend still resides. He’s also lived in Anchorage and Kenai.

After a seven-day search in Nome, “no evidence has been located to indicate Balderas’ current location,” says the trooper dispatch.

Troopers located the blue pickup truck Balderas was driving on June 27 at mile 44 of the Nome-Council Highway. Balderas was last seen with it the afternoon of June 25. A trooper spokesperson said he was likely trail running or hiking in the area.

Several agencies were involved in what the troopers described as an “intense” search, including the U.S. Coast Guard, Nome Search and Rescue, National Park Service, City of Nome, Civil Air Patrol, Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Alaska Court System, Mat SAR and Fairbanks PAWS.

The last day for the trooper-led search was July 3. An independent search for Balderas is still underway, trooper spokesperson Megan Peters wrote in an email Tuesday.

“The Nome Volunteer Fire Department will still be used as a staging location for the independent search. The Alaska State Troopers will remain in contact with the Balderas family as they continue to search for Joseph,” she wrote.

Balderas’ girlfriend and Juneau local Megan Rider traveled Thursday from Anchorage to Nome with Balderas’ parents and a sister, who flew from Texas, and another sister, who flew from Hawaii to help search. Balderas’ friends from Juneau, Anchorage, Bethel and California also flew to Nome to assist with the effort.

“The terrain is more rough than I imagined with spongy tundra and thick willows. The good news is the temps are high, lots of daylight, freshwater streams are everywhere, and Joseph is strong,” Rider wrote in a Facebook message Saturday morning.

Rider spoke on the phone with Balderas the night of June 24 and the last communication she received from him was through a WhatsApp message the morning of June 25. He said he was probably going to head to a river to go king salmon fishing.

“His hip waders were found in (the truck) so we def think he was running,” Rider wrote. She added that two pairs of his walking boots were also found there.

Between 50 and 60 volunteers per day have been spending long hours searching for Balderas, some on foot, others on ATVs.

“The search for Joseph has been one of the largest and most intensive searches Nome has seen,” according to a July 4 post on the Facebook page Finding Joseph. “Innumerable members of the Nome community have spent long hours in the field, whether or not they knew Joseph … Every day, dozens of volunteers drove 100 miles roundtrip on a gravel road to reach the remote search area, plunged into brush and gullies carrying firearms in case of a bear encounter, hiked for miles stopping to explore every shadow, drove ATVs up and down mountains, and crawled through caves and culverts.”

Volunteer searchers backpacked over the holiday weekend to explore less searched areas. People have used personal drones to see into inaccessible areas, the post continued.

Reba Lean is a resident of Nome who writes some of the posts on the Facebook site. She also helped organize the Finding Joseph fundraiser on the website YouCaring. As of Tuesday afternoon, it’s raised more than $39,300, surpassing the $30,000 goal.

“(The funds) have been helping out with search and rescue expenses. We’re trying to get them to cover some travel costs,” Lean said on the phone Tuesday.

About 50 volunteers searched late into the night Monday, she said, and a “scaled-down” search continued Tuesday.

While the troopers have suspended their search, Lean said the people of Nome remain hopeful.

“Everyone is just so supportive,” she said. “It’s been hard not finding much but everyone is really hopeful, the whole community.”

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