A Coast Guard hearing began Monday to investigate the contributing factors that led to the New Year's eve grounding of the Shell Oil drilling rig Kulluk near Sitkalidak Island.
On Jan. 4, 2013, the Coast Guard launched its formal marine casualty investigation. In the months that followed, the Coast Guard gathered evidence leading up to Monday's public witness testimony in Anchorage at the Loussac Library.
On day one of a 10-day hearing, the Coast Guard introduced 79-items of evidence that included Shell's tow plan, daily operation reports, photos, diagrams and video showing the failure of emergency tow lines.
In addition, officers took testimony of Norman Custard, Shell's emergency response team lead, for nearly three hours on day one.
"On behalf of Shell Exploration and Production Company, I assure you of our full cooperation in this investigation as well as all your efforts to understand why the Kulluk went aground," said Custard.
Throughout Custard's testimony, Cmdr. Joshua McTaggart asked him to describe the procedures, contingency plans and other factors that led to the failed towing of the Kulluk.
Custard described the details of the events that occurred from the moment the tow line was established through the time the Kulluk ran aground.
Coast Guard officials say they plan to use the findings from the investigation to determine whether additional measures need to be taken to moving forward to prevent a situation like this from happening in the future.
Coast Guard officials say they hope to have the investigation completed by July 5.
Day two begins Tuesday morning at 8:30 at Assembly Chambers and is open to the public.
Contact Blake Essig
A Kenai woman has won the Nenana Ice Classic for a second time.
On Monday, Yvonne Snow along with her husband Warren won this year's jackpot which totaled $318,000.
No one predicted the exact minute the tripod would fall, which happened at 2:41 p.m. Monday when the ice on the Tanana River went out.
The Kenai couple's guess of 2:40 p.m. was the closest without going over. In 2005, Yvonne won "Alaska's favorite guessing game," however had to split the pot with several other winners, her take was $7000.
Yvonne says she was at work when she found out she'd won.
"I didn't get a call from the Nenana Ice Classic," Yvonne said. "My husband called and I thought he was joking with me because he made fun of me guessing so late in the year, so it was quite shocking."
Contact Rebecca Palsha
An important ruling was made Monday in the trial of several Yupik fishermen charged with defying a fishing closure last summer.
Defendants had argued they had the right to fish last summer based on religious grounds. While the judge in the case agreed free religious exercise protections apply, the Chinook salmon need to be protected.
Last June, the Kuskokwim River was closed for seven days to subsistence fishing of king salmon. When that closure was extended another five days, some fishermen decided to fish anyway at the urging of elders.
The State charged 60 fishermen with using gillnets in violation of the emergency order aimed at allowing king salmon to meet escapement goals. Most of the defendants pleaded guilty or were fined.
On Monday, acting District Court Judge Bruce Ward read a seven page memorandum decision affecting the remaining 22 defendants.
He argued religion is involved with subsistence harvesting of king salmon, but the need to protect king salmon overcomes the argued free exercise exemption for religious practices.
Subsistence fishermen are watching the trial closely and some say despite the ruling against their defense, agreement by the state that subsistence practices are protected on religious grounds is a win.
"In a nutshell, I think it's a good day for all of us and we made huge gains on our hunting and fishing rights," Mike Williams, a subsistence fishermen and tribal leader, said.
Defendants in the case are being represented by the Northern Justice Project free of charge. Defense attorney James Davis says he's extraordinarily excited by what the ruling supporting subsistence practices as a religious practice holds, but says he plans on appealing the charges.
On Monday, the first ten defendants took the stand to express how subsistence fishing is tied to their spiritual practices. When asked how they felt when they were prevented from fishing, many men became emotional.
"Most of the fishermen, even elders who'd been fishing their entire lives, old tough guys, would break down and crying in court - open court in front of their community, even though Yupik men pride themselves on never showing those types of emotions in public," Davis said.
Those charged on Monday were ordered to pay fines ranging from $50 to $500.
Contact: Dan Carpenter
Revolving parents - an estimated 1800 young people are in foster care throughout Alaska. May is Foster Care month and advocates are trying to bring attention to this group.
Sarah Redmon doesn't spend a lot of time at home these days as she juggles three jobs while attending college full-time. Back in January, Chuck and Janet O'Brien once again became her foster parents. Sarah has known them almost as long as she has known her biological parents. When she was 11, she was taken out of her biological parents' home.
"I know that they're my parents, I know them, I talk to them, and I love them," said Redmon. "But sometimes they can't provide everything I need, so I have to live in a situation like this."
Her fourth grade teacher took her in, but she still maintains a relationship with her biological parents.
Sarah's friend Slade Martin, 24, has also lived in foster care - 24 placements with the shortest being two days and the longest lasting a year.
"At the time it really bothered me, it was like no one wanted me, what did I do wrong, why am I bounced around so much," said Martin.
It appears these foster kids-now-turned-adults weathered the adversity. In the last few days, Martin got his associates degree from Mat-Su College and Redmon has a year of college under her belt.
"I got told no, I wasn't going to graduate as a junior," said Redmon, who plans on using her education and her life experience to help other foster teens. "I graduated as a junior in high school at Bartlett and now I'm in college."
Redmon says, "I'm supposed to get a bachelors, that's not even in my mind, I'm going straight for my masters in social work."
Facing Foster Care is collecting donations to help college bound students who have been in foster care. The group needs new or gently used laptop computers, bedding or tax deductible donations.
For more information, call 907-230-8237.
Contact Adam Pinsker
A brief power outage knocked out power to numerous customers in South Anchorage's main retail belt Monday afternoon, including the Dimond Center mall.
Chugach Electric spokesperson Sarah Wiggers says a substation near the intersection of Dimond Boulevard and the Old Seward Highway lost power at 3:35 p.m.
"We had a breaker tripped," Wiggers said. "We're not sure, but we think it was a blown fuse."
While the outage's effects didn't reach far beyond the intersection, Chugach says business customers were disproportionately affected due to its location.
"I would say about 98 percent of them were commercial customers," Wiggers said.
According to Wiggers, Chugach crews restored power to the area at 4:12 p.m.
Contact Chris Klint
Alaska State Troopers say search efforts continued Monday for two snowmachiners last seen more than five days ago, with poor conditions still hindering attempts to locate them.
According to AST spokesperson Megan Peters, all air assets in the search for Noorvik resident Shallain Adams, 23, and 32-year-old Clifford Griest of Selawik were grounded Monday by bad weather.
"We've got dedicated ground searchers and their efforts have been quite frankly heroic, but there haven't been any confirmed signs of them," Peters said.
While efforts to find the two are continuing, Peters says authorities are concerned about placing searchers themselves into hazardous conditions.
Adams and Griest were last seen leaving Kotzebue early Wednesday morning, riding a black Polaris IQ snowmachine en route to Selawik. Although more than 70 searchers from at least six communities in the region have been involved in efforts to find them, with Alaska Air National Guard flights Thursday and Friday in support, nothing has yet been found.
Beth Ipsen, another AST spokesperson, told Channel 2 over the weekend that other flights, including that of an Alaska Wildlife Trooper planned to assist the search, had also been grounded by the poor conditions.
Troopers say the Northwest Arctic Borough is coordinating the ground search.
Contact Chris Klint
The Nenana Ice Classic's tripod fell Monday afternoon, bringing an end to one of the state's traditions for the year -- and hundreds of thousands of dollars to some lucky winners.
Cherrie Forness, the Ice Classic's manager, says the official time of the tripod's fall into the Tanana River was 2:41 p.m. -- the latest ever recorded for the event. Earlier Monday, Forness told Channel 2 she saw that a channel of water had opened behind the tripod, with a gap opening beneath one leg of the tripod, but the ice under the structure seemed relatively intact.
This year's jackpot is $318,500, but not everybody stood an equal chance to win. While Forness says 1,800 guesses in the Classic extended through May and June, at least a dozen were made for September through December -- with four predicting the tripod's fall in August.
No one predicted the exact minute the tripod would fall. But Warren and Yvonne Snow of Kenai were a minute off, guessing the time at 2:40 p.m. on Monday, meaning they were the closest.
The Associated Press, as well as Channel 2's Ashleigh Ebert and Kortnie Horazdovsky contributed information to this story.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
Contact Chris Klint
An Alaska volcano eruption is prompting regional airlines to cancel flights to nearby communities, including a town that reported traces of fallen ash.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory says Pavlof Volcano has released ash plumes as high as 22,000 feet. Clouds obscured the volcano Monday, but scientists say seismic instruments at the volcano 625 miles southwest of Anchorage show continuing tremors.
Geologist Chris Waythomas says the abrasive ash has not risen enough to threaten international air traffic passing over the volcano-rich Aleutian arc. Ash emissions have reached high enough, however, to affect flights of some smaller planes.
Anchorage-based regional carrier PenAir has canceled a dozen passenger and cargo flights to several communities. They include Sand Point, which reported a dusting of ash Sunday.
PenAir says passengers can keep an eye on their flight status on the airline's website. Officials say the changes are no different than those made to accommodate bad weather.
Ace Air Cargo canceled two flights.
Channel 2's Ashleigh Ebert contributed information to this story.
The Army has scheduled a Wednesday court-martial for a Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson soldier accused of sexual abuse, Anchorage's third military sex-crimes case to be publicly announced this month.
A Monday statement from U.S. Army Alaska spokesperson Maj. Joshua Camara says Chief Warrant Officer Guillermo Castillo, 33, was charged Dec. 13, 2012 with abusive sexual contact in connection with an Oct. 6, 2012 incident.
"Castillo is also being charged with violating the orders of two commissioned officers on Nov. 6 and Dec. 8, 2012, and with driving under the influence of alcohol on Dec. 8, 2012," Camara wrote.
According to Camara, Castillo is from California and has served in the Army since 2000, graduating from Warrant Officer Candidate School in 2009. He joined JBER's 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division in June 2010, and was deployed to Afghanistan with the unit in 2012 from May to October.
Castillo waived his rights to an Article 32 hearing in January, allowing his case to proceed to a general court-martial. His trial will begin at 9 a.m. in JBER's military courtroom.
The Army said less than two weeks ago that Spc. Jose Nataren had been sentenced at court-martial to 12 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, after being convicted of sexual assault and adultery for sneaking into a fellow soldier's barracks on base and assaulting her Sept. 20.
Nataren's conviction was announced two days after Anchorage police said a court-martial had sentenced Marine Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Howard in a similar case to a reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge -- but no jail time. Howard, a recruiter who worked at the Dimond Center mall, was convicted of first-degree sexual assault and adultery after he assaulted a friend's girlfriend.
Capt. Charles Spears, a spokesperson for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, says Monday that further information on the case will not be released until the court-martial begins.
Contact Chris Klint
Fort Yukon is experiencing minor flooding.
The National Weather Service office in Fairbanks reports that village officials say low-lying areas of the community are under water Monday as the breakup front on the Yukon River is passing town.
Flooding has made the frontage road impassable, and officials report water is up to the steps of the tribal hall.
A flood warning is in effect in Fort Yukon until 4 p.m. Tuesday.
National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb says ice downriver of Fort Yukon appears to be more intact. That could cause another jam on the river, and cause additional flooding in Fort Yukon if the water backs up.
The Obama administration has approved Alaska's request for a waiver from provisions of the federal education law No Child Left Behind.
In 2011, the administration announced it would let states avoid certain requirements, like students showing they're proficient in reading and math by 2014, if other conditions were met. Those conditions included states imposing their own standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals.
Alaska applied for a waiver last year.
Critics of No Child Left Behind call it a one-size-fits-all approach to education that doesn't fit Alaska's needs.
The U.S. Department of Education says it has approved waiver requests from 37 states and the District of Columbia so far.
The latest approvals, announced Monday, were for Alaska, Hawaii and West Virginia.
Alaska State Troopers say a 33-year-old man is believed to have drowned in the icy Chena River in Fairbanks after a stolen kayak he was in overturned and he was swept away.
Troopers say a woman who lives on the south side of the Chena called troopers Sunday evening to report she heard a man yelling from the river near The Pump House restaurant.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner says the woman reported seeing a yellow kayak overturned in the river and a person's head in the water.
The woman's husband recovered the kayak, which contained items indicating the man in the water was Joshua Graham.
Troopers say later Sunday, a man reported his home had been broken into and several items, including a yellow kayak had been stolen.
Alaska is proposing a plan aimed at determining the true oil and gas potential in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The plan was announced Monday by Gov. Sean Parnell and Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan.
According to the announcement, the U.S. Department of Interior hasn't indicated it will address oil and gas issues in a new planning document for the refuge so Alaska is stepping up.
The multi-year proposal includes seismic surveys, environmental studies and exploration drilling on the coastal plain of the refuge, according to the announcement. Exploration would take place in winter, and Parnell says it would have a limited impact on the environment.
Parnell says he will ask the Legislature for up to $50 million toward the plan, if the federal government is willing to partner with Alaska.
Last week, National Marine Fisheries Service officials made the decision to consider listing a harbor seal population in Lake Iliamna as endangered or threatened--yet another piece of wood on the controversial fire that is the Pebble Mine project.
In the coming months, the federal agency will continue to review the latest research to make a final decision on the status of the seals. This latest development has sparked a debate between the Center for Biological Diversity and the Pebble Partnership.
Biologists say these freshwater seals are the only population in the United States. They say the seals' unique environment and existence warrant an endangered species label.
"It's a small population of seals," Center biologist Kiersten Lippmann said. "There are only 250 to 350 individuals in the lake and small variations in their environment can push the population towards extinction."
Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively disagrees.
"We don't think it's necessary," Shively said. "The numbers we have seen with the seals is that they've been pretty stable over time."
Shively says the Endangered Species Act improperly.
"The endangered species act was meant to protect things and bring them back," Shively said. "The act is now being used by the environment movement to stop development."
The Center says any mine activity will disrupt the seals and waste coming from the mine will negatively affect the marine mammal's food source.
"If the species is listed as threatened or endangered the Pebble Mine would have to consult with NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] on what kind of impacts the seal would suffer before moving forward in their permitting process," Lippmann said.
But the Pebble Partnership says it already expected to have conversations about the impacts of the mine.
"We want to build a project that provides local jobs and protects the fish," Shively said. "We've always said that if we can exist with the fish than the fish have to come first. We come second."
The Center says last week it passed the first hurdle for the seals to be put on the endangered species list. Now, a 60 day public comment period will go on until the middle of July. Then the federal government will have until next November to make its final decision.
Contact Garrett Turner:
STORY UPDATED AT 7:52 p.m. at 5/19/13:
Peters says ground search efforts Friday have been focused on the north shore of the Baldwin Peninsula, as well as the south shore of Selawik Lake -- areas which bad weather has kept crews from checking.
Alaska State Troopers say weather continues to hamper the search for two snowmachiners near Kotzebue.
Shallain Adams, 23 of Noorvik, and Clifford Griest, 32 of Selawik, left Kotzebue early Wednesday morning on a black Polaris IQ snowmachine destined for Selawik. Over 70 searchers from Kotzebue, Selawik, Noorvik, Kiana, Noatak and Buckland have been involved in the ground search, but "efforts have been hampered by periodic bad weather.
On Saturday, an Alaska wildlife trooper flew for a couple of hours before fog and blowing snow turned the pilot back.
On Sunday, Beth Ipsen, Public Information Officer with Dept. of Public Safety, reported that the wildlife trooper was "fueled up and ready to go," however "freezing fog and blowing snow kept him on the ground."
Ipsen says the Northwest Arctic Borough Search and Rescue team remains the main team coordinating ground searches and that people on the ground were turned back by the weather.
According to troopers, if the weather breaks, then an aerial search will happen a area east and northeast of Kotzebue in the York Bay area.
"There are a lot of shelter cabins in the area, so it's possible they may seeking refuge from the wind and snow," Ipsen wrote in an emailed response. "Luckily it hasn't been cold, which works to their favor."
Ipsen says, "this area is pretty flat and open, but there are lots of rivers, creek and a few lakes, plus a lot of willows that could hide them."
Editor's Note: KTUU's Neil Torquiano contributed to an update of this story.
STORY UPDATED AT 1:12 p.m. at 5/17/13:
Ground and air searchers are trying to find two snowmachiners near Kotzebue who have been missing for more than three days, according to Alaska State Troopers.
AST spokesperson Megan Peters says Shallain Adams and Clifford Griest, last listed by troopers as living in Kotzebue and Kiana respectively, left Kotzebue en route to Noorvik on a single snowmachine at about 2 a.m. Wednesday (May 15). It's not clear why they were headed there, or why they left at such an early hour of the day.
Adams and Griest were reported missing to troopers at roughly 2:30 p.m. Wednesday , initiating a search that has expanded to include aid from several communities in the region.
"There's ground searchers from Kiana, Noorvik, Kotzebue, Selawik and Buckland," Peters said.
"Weather has been hampering the search, and they have pockets of bad weather moving around them," Peters said.
Alaska National Guard spokesperson Maj. Guy Hayes says the 11th Air Force's Rescue Coordination Center is providing aerial support as conditions in the area permit. An Air National Guard HC-130 Hercules search plane and an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter were sent to the region early Thursday, but weren't able to participate in the search.
"Due to weather in the morning, they had to turn around," Hayes said.
A second HC-130 flight was launched Thursday night and was able to spend some time looking for the snowmachiners, with a third flight scheduled to launch Friday. Hayes says the Guard is primarily using fixed-wing aircraft for the search, but can send in helicopters if necessary.
"If the request comes in, we can provide whatever support is needed," Hayes said.
In addition to the Guard aircraft, Peters says Alaska Wildlife Troopers aircraft are also involved with the effort.
"RCC is continuing to contribute air assets, and they are coordinating with AWT and other local air assets," Peters said.
Peters says she hasn't heard of any signs of Adams or Griest being found during the search, which has been in progress for more than 80 hours. She says no decision has been made to suspend the search, and there have been no calls for separate searches in the state which might draw resources from the Kotzebue effort.
"It's all taken in stride -- each case has its own circumstances surrounding it," Peters said. "We do the best we can with the evidence that we have at hand."
Editor's note: Alaska State Troopers say Adams' and Griest's locations of residence are the latest ones listed for them.
5-19-13: Date corrected for day snowmachiners went missing from Tuesday, May 14 to Wednesday, May 15 from info provided by troopers.
Contact Chris Klint
A $150,000 state grant expected from the Alaska Legislature will allow the Kenai Peninsula Borough to help assess groundwater contamination near Nikiski.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre says the money would let the borough assess environmental data in partnership with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and determine whether a larger plan is needed.
The Peninsula Clarion (http://bit.ly/10H0rMq) reports residents are concerned about groundwater contamination caused by past pollution connected to the petroleum industry.
At least 4,200 gallons of oil-contaminated waste, sludge and other pollutants were dumped at one site in the early 1980s.
The Department of Environmental Conservation is trying to assess whether contamination near the site lingers.
Navarre says he doesn't want borough money duplicating work done by the DEC or the property owners.
After months of waiting, the State of Alaska and four other west coast states will soon receive $250,000 to help with tsunami relief.
Last fall, the Japanese government issued a $5 million grant to the United States to help with the monitoring, recovery and cleanup of an estimated 1.5 billion tons of marine debris after the 2011 tsunami.
The money will be dispersed by NOAA, with the remaining funds expected to be issued based on an application process.
Alaska officials say the state applied for an additional $750,000, a number they say is merely a drop in the bucket, due to the challenges cleanup crews face here in Alaska.
"In order to effectively deal with this, it's going to take money," said Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. "It's going to be far in excess of $1 million as we attempt to deal with the tsunami debris that has come to our shore."
"I think this is a step in the right direction, but it's still clearly not enough," said Senator Mark Begich, D-Alaska. "It's really like a prolonged disaster and we won't see the full results for years to come."
Gulf of Alaska Keeper has spent the last 12 years cleaning marine debris from Alaska's pristine coastline and just last summer cleaned more than 250 miles of coastline.
"We've been doing it on the cheap with volunteers and our own equipment and stuff, but we can't come even close to tackling this thing without a bunch of funding," said Chris Pallister, President of Gulf of Alaska Keeper. "We really believe that the cost of this thing is going to approach or exceed $100 million."
The group says additional challenges like constant weather problems, the remoteness of some of the beaches, a short clean up season and the vastness of Alaska's coastline are reasons why the price estimate remains so high.
Sen. Mark Begich expects the results of the states application for additional grant money to be made within the next 60 days.
Contact Blake Essig
A trial will begin Monday for a 24-year-old Juneau man charged with second-degree murder in the death of his 4-month-old daughter.
David J. Paul also is charged with manslaughter in the August 2010 death of Rian Jambi Orr.
The Juneau Empire (http://bit.ly/10OJHUK) reports the girl suffered a seizure and was taken to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with a brain injury. She died a week later at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
The King County Medical Examiner said the baby also had older injuries, including rib and leg bone fractures.
Prosecutors charged Paul a year after the girl's death. A judge threw out that indictment and ruled Juneau police had coerced involuntary statements from him.
A grand jury indicted Paul again in June.
Alaska State Troopers say a small plane, crash-landed at an airport in the Mat-Su Valley.
Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen says the plane crashed in the middle of the airstrip at Goose Bay Airport at about 11 a.m. Sunday.
Troopers say the pilot of the Maule M-5 four-seater aircraft was coming in for a landing on the airstrip when he had a gear failure.
One of the struts broke and dug into the ground during the landing and the plane tipped forward, damaging the nose, propeller and wing of the aircraft.
The plane came to a stop in the middle of the airstrip and only the pilot was onboard.
Ipsen says no injuries were reported in the incident.
Contact Samantha Angaiak
Waters of the Yukon River rose quickly Sunday morning and spilled into the community of Circle.
Most of the homes and other structures in Circle were damaged by flooding, according to the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Some were inundated with water even pushed off their foundation.
The water rose about five to eight feet Sunday morning, but around noon, floodwaters began rapidly receding.
Emergency officials say the Native Village of Circle helped move people to safety right away, and no one was injured.
An emergency management specialist from the river watch team is staying in circle to help the community, while a hydrologist and pilot are traveling down the Yukon to watch the water levels and communicate with communities down river.
Officials say a flood watch was in effect around 2 p.m. Sunday for Fort Yukon, which is about 145 air miles northeast of Fairbanks. Circle has a flood warning in effect and is about 125 miles northeast of Fairbanks.
Residents took refuge at the school, store, and a location near the post office. The DHSEM says, "the power system and washateria appear intact and operational."
"The good news is now we know all the residents are safe," Jeremy Zidek, DHSEM Public Information Officer, said. "The community was well-notified of the flood danger and early this morning they took action and got everyone up to higher ground to safe locations."
Editor's Note: KTUU's Neil Torquiano contributed to this story.
Contact Samantha Angaiak