Hikers bodies found in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

National Park Service rangers have recovered the bodies of two hikers along the Sanford River in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

They were identified as Rochelle Renken and Michael Huffman, both 62 years of age and from Columbia, Missouri.

NPS rangers said they were experienced backpackers.  Renken had been to Alaska several times in the past and had previous experience crossing Alaskan rivers. The deaths appear to be accidental. No foul play is suspected.

Renken and Huffman were last seen on June 22 when they were dropped off by an air taxi operator at the Sanford Glacier airstrip, less than two miles from where their bodies were found.

When they failed to make their airstrip pick-up at the Dadina River on June 27 and missed two pre-planned satellite phone calls with the air taxi service, the service notified the NPS, which initiated an intensive aerial and ground search for the couple on June 27. By June 28, there were 27 people and five aircraft involved in the search.

Late last week search crews found footprints along the Sanford River where it emerges from the Sanford Glacier. Those footprints were indicative of two people preparing for a river crossing, rangers said. Over the weekend search crews found two backpacks and other backpacking gear strewn along a seven mile stretch of the Sanford River downriver from the Sanford Glacier and the location of the footprints. Water levels in the river receded on June 27 and June 28, leaving items stranded in dry channels along the river.


Based on evidence found by searchers, it appears that the couple attempted to cross the river near the toe of the glacier and were swept away.

Rangers are reminding backpackers that river crossings are always dangerous and that rivers and streams that are sometimes passable become impassable, even for experts, after rainstorms or on sunny days with rapid glacial melt.