Borough suspends search for Derek Heller

The borough on Dec. 6 announced the suspension of the search for Derek Heller, 12, missing since a Nov. 20 landslide took out his family’s home at 11-Mile Zimovia Highway.

“The decision to end the active search comes after 15 days of tireless and exhaustive efforts by the Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department Search and Rescue teams,” the borough’s announcement said.

“The untiring efforts to locate 12-year-old Derek Heller extended to all accessible areas above and into the intertidal zone,” the borough’s statement said.

Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Jordan Buness and a team of five Search and Rescue volunteers “had circled back to recheck the Heller residence on this last afternoon (Dec. 5) of doubling down on efforts to comb through primary search areas,” the borough reported.

“After careful consideration and evaluation of all available information, it has been determined that all accessible search areas have been thoroughly examined. Search and Rescue volunteers and a scent-detection K9 team will be available to respond with active searching if any new information or evidence leads to a specific search area in the future.”

Searchers in the first few days after the slide recovered the bodies of Derek’s parents, Timothy and Beth, and his sisters, Mara, 16, and Kara, 11.

Searchers also found the body of the other landslide victim, Otto Florschutz, 65.

“Since the incident unfolded, the Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department, alongside numerous dedicated support volunteers, K9 scent dogs and local equipment operators, worked resolutely to comb through the vast and complex debris area below the Zimovia Highway,” the borough said.

The search crews were assisted by Wrangell police and personnel from the state troopers, Alaska Department of Transportation, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Coast Guard and the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.


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