Despite robust search, no sign of missing hunter

Army light-detecting equipment used in search for Neil Durco, missing for 6 days

Volunteers gather at the Cordova Fire Hall. (Oct. 13, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
Volunteers gather at the Cordova Fire Hall. (Oct. 13, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Despite clear skies and the use of high-powered light-detecting equipment, searches have revealed no new sign of a missing hunter, Cordova Police Department officials say.

Neil Durco, 33, was last seen at McKinley Lake Cabin at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7. The search for Durco began after he failed to return on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 8 as planned. Durco’s friends are concerned that he may have departed without adequate gear or food, said Ken Marsh, information officer for the Alaska State Troopers. 

Thursday, Oct. 10 ground searches turned up fresh tracks thought to have been Durco’s. However, subsequent searches have unearthed no new sign of the hunter, Cordova Police Chief Mike Hicks said. On the night of Friday, Oct. 11, searchers aerially surveyed the McKinley Lake Trail area using Army night vision equipment capable of detecting light sources like candles or headlamps, yielding no results. The search effort, led by Alaska State Trooper Laura Reid, has additionally been supported by the Alaska Air National Guard.

Although initial heavy rains grounded search aircraft, Oct. 11-12 was relatively clear and calm. Despite having roughly 50 volunteers moving over rugged terrain, there were no injuries during Saturday, Oct. 12 searches, organizers said. Morale among volunteers remains high, and no end date has been set for the search, Hicks said.

The search initially focused to the west of Devil’s Spine, an elevated ridge near McKinley Lake. The search area has since shifted further west. Investigations are expanding across a larger area, and searchers are combing each unit of forest repeatedly, Hicks said. Areas of dense underbrush are being investigated on foot by groups of two-to-four, whereas helicopters are being used to search steep, potentially dangerous terrain.

Volunteers have sighted several possible signs of human activity, such as a flash of light or a red-colored object. However, further investigation by ground or air turned up nothing of note.

“When you’re out in the field, it could be water running over a rock and, when the sunlight hits it just right, you see a flash,” Police Chief Mike Hicks said. “There might be an old vehicle out there. The sun’s at just the right angle, and you see a flash of light off the windshield.”

The search effort has been deluged with donations of much-needed supplies, Hicks said. Volunteers gathered at the Cordova Fire Hall on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 13, were greeted by a long buffet of muffins, quiche, nut bars, and other breakfast and snack food.

“The support has been overwhelming, but that’s the norm for Cordova,” Hicks said. “Every time I turn around, someone’s showing up with some sort of food or drink.”

A GoFundMe online fundraiser for the search effort, opened by Cordova Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Renfeldt, gathered $14,960 in less than 24 hours.

Anyone with information concerning Durco is encouraged to contact the Alaska State Troopers at 907-424-3184 or the Cordova Police Department at 907-424-6100.