Long, exhausting hours and the need to get back to jobs and families are threatening to deplete the ranks of civilian volunteers who have spent the past week searching for Kathleen Garrigan and another AmeriCorps volunteer. The two disappeared with a third person on Memorial Day weekend while canoeing on Harding Lake in Alaska.

In the meantime, the Garrigan family gave $15,000 cash and 200 gallons of fuel to the search effort Wednesday following two fundraisers Sunday and Monday. Another $1,100 in individual donations was received as well.

Search officials are now working to fill the demand for fresh human resources.

“There have been seven boats consistently searching and in order to sustain this search, we are requesting any additional boat support to give our boaters a break,” a notice on the Tanana
Chiefs website stated Wednesday.

Reached at Harding Lake Wednesday afternoon, volunteer search coordinator Darryl Frank said he is most in need of additional people to spell the volunteer searchers.

“They’re putting in a lot of hours on the water,” he said. “A lot of hours. Nearly ’round the clock. These guys are getting here at 8 a.m., 7 a.m., and pulling out at 3 a.m.”

Franks said many searchers have jobs they needto return to.

“They’re taking time off to be here,” he said.

Franks said a variety of boats are being utilized in the search, including shallow-bottom, jet powered, outboards and prop-driven. Searchers are currently using shorter range sonar available at sporting goods stores and commonly used by recreational fisherman that can plumb to 40 feet.

The Alaska Fish and Game Department has contributed a sonar system that can reach 85 feet, but State Police are still looking for a high-tech military-quality system that can reach the full depths of the lake, which is 200 feet deep in spots.

Searchers also have a video camera that can go down to a depth of 65 feet.

“My biggest concern right now is getting more people and boats. It’s a big lake,” said Franks, who estimated Harding Lake’s length at around 2 to 2 ½ miles long and around 1 ¾ miles wide.

Boaters did not have life vests

While some news accounts have noted that alcohol was likely consumed by the three campers, others suggest that the most likely cause of the tragedy was the lethally cold water in Harding Lake this time of year.

No flotation devices have been recovered from the lake, and police say they don’t believe the campers were wearing them in their canoe. It remains unclear why there were no life vests.

An editorial in the Anchorage Daily News Monday underscored the critical importance of such safety devices, saying, “Anyone unfortunate enough to tumble into frigid water, in Alaska or anywhere else, is in serious danger with or without some sort of personal flotation device. But wearing a PFD gives a person added time to either find a way to shore or to be found by rescuers.”

Franks, who has long experience on and around the area’s lakes, agrees, saying the bitterly cold waters are extremely dangerous.

“Your chances are very, very slim,” said Franks of those without life vests. “The ice melted here just shortly before [Memorial Day].”

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