Remembering Lydia

Lydia Cullum joined KISAR in September of 2018.  Since that time, she became a valued and integral part of our team and KISAR family. At every stage in her involvement with KISAR, her enthusiastic hunger for developing new skill sets, acquiring knowledge, and commitment to public service were character traits we all should aspire to replicate. Her intelligence, athleticism, easy-going personality, and unerring generosity and humanity will be deeply missed by her teammates. It is hard to imagine a bigger blow to our organization than her passing. She was, simply put, a perfect fit for KISAR. We will miss her in her roles as a student, a team member, a teacher, and as a friend.

Below is a short narrative outlining Lydia’s involvement with KISAR. This is by no means an exhaustive accounting of the myriad of ways she made KISAR more effective, more relevant, and us as her friends better people.

In November of 2018 Lydia joined us in her first training which was a simulated call out for a hiker had fallen off a cliff in Fort Abercrombie. Lydia and an another KISAR member formed a hasty team to travel to the site and assess the situation. Other members assembled gear at Bayside Fire Hall that might be useful. After the subject was located the hasty team radioed the scene information so other KISAR members could bring the necessary gear to their location. KISAR performed a high-angle lift and the patient was packaged and transported to the trail head.

The following April Lydia participated a coordinated mountain safety training at the 4th of July hut with the US Coast Guard. KISAR members went out to the CG hangar to look over gear and discuss helicopter operations. She flew up to the hut in an H-65 and was lowered by basket to the training area. KISAR used a roll-up Sked to package a CG rescue dummy and practiced doing litter raises. After the helo operations, Blaine Smith from the Alaska Avalanche School gave KISAR a class in various aspects of mountain safety including crampon and ice ax technique as well as rigging snow anchors.

In April Lydia enjoyed a day of rock climbing in Anton Larsen Bay with the KISAR community.

In January of 2020 Lydia joined our KISAR board of directors and increased her involvement with the organization. And just in time; KISAR had a busy summer despite COVID including a July response to lost hikers on Pyramid Mountain.

She helped on the Woody Island lost kayaker call out and performed the first documented KISAR piggyback rescue.

We were extremely lucky to be able to draw on her extensive medical knowledge as a emergency medicine professional when she led response this past July on Kashevaroff Mtn.

We all miss her dearly and are grateful for the time we had with her in our search and rescue family.

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July Kashevaroff Mtn SAR Mission


At 19:23 on July 27 the Alaska State Troopers were alerted to reports of an adult female who had rolled an ATV on Kashevaroff Mountain and sustained injuries. KISAR was contacted and a response initiated. KISAR member Nick Szabo began contacting KISAR members to determine availability. KISAR member Lydia Cullum arrived at Bayside Fire Hall and received additional information from the Emergency Department that the patient had altered mental status due to head trauma and possibly multiple orthopedic injuries. At 20:07 Cullum volunteered to go ahead of the rest of the KISAR group as a hasty team to provide medical assistance. In route to Kashevaroff, Cullum was contacted by Trooper Boyle who was on scene and was given details of the patient’s condition. At 20:35 Cullum was at the trailhead and met Trooper Walsh and Women’s Bay Fire volunteers that offered a “go bag” of medical supplies. Trooper Walsh provided ATV transportation to the site of the ATV rollover (57.6883°, -152.5828°). At 20:48 Cullum arrived on scene. An adult female was found lying on her left side under an emergency blanket. A quick trauma assessment was completed identifying multiple possible injuries. The patient was placed in a c-collar, a splint was placed on the patient’s right hand, and the patient was kept in the position of comfort on her left side. A helicopter extraction was determined to be the best option given the possible extent of the patient’s injuries and the level of discomfort she was in. Trooper Boyle initiated contacting the Coast Guard at 21:03. The rest of the KISAR team including Doug Dorner, Paul VanDyke, Steven Wielebski, Michael Gibbs, Kyle Setta, Shea Long, and Chris Bruno arrived at 21:10. Maintaining c-spine precautions the KISAR team lifted the patient into the KISAR Stokes basket. KISAR coordinated with the Coast Guard via radio communications to determine the best method of extracting the patient. KISAR members carried the patient in the stokes basket to a location 60 feet below the accident where the helicopter could partially land. The KISAR team loaded the patient directly into the helicopter at the direction of the CG rescue swimmer. The KISAR team hiked out with the patient’s family and Alaska State Troopers. All members were off the mountain at 23:18.



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July Woody Island Call Out


A young man and woman departed Mission Beach in kayaks on July 8 headed for Trident Basin and Crooked Island but were blown off course in the Woody Island Channel and made landfall on Woody Island near Icehouse Point instead. They had no means of communication with them and carried no supplies. They were reported overdue on the evening of July 8. The Alaska State Troopers contacted KISAR and a callout to members was initiated by KISAR member Nick Szabo. KISAR members responding were Ryan Cross, Lydia Cullum, Doug Dorner, Shae Long, Mike Sirofchuck, Philip Tschersich, Sharon and Steve Wielebski. Cross secured a skiff from KISAR member John Sikes and along with a Harbor Master’s skiff met the KISAR team at the float plane dock in Trident Basin at 10:00. USCG helicopters had been searching Crooked Island since around 08:30 and later located 2 abandoned kayaks on Woody Island just north of Icehouse Point. The KISAR team was directed to proceed to Woody Island. Just prior to KISAR’s, arrival a USCG helicopter spotted the 2 missing individuals coming out of the forest behind the Kodiak Baptist Mission property at Icehouse Point. Baptist Mission employees had skiffed over that morning, drawn by the helicopter activity at their property, and met the 2 missing kayakers. KISAR and the Alaska State Troopers arrived at the scene and KISAR offered warm clothing and a shuttle to the larger AST vessel. KISAR returned to Trident Basin and the effort was demobilized by 11:00.


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July SAR Mission on Tugidak Island


KISAR member Steve Wielebski received a call Friday, July 3 at 11:47 from US Coast Guard, Sector Anchorage. Sector Anchorage explained that the Coast Guard would like assistance from KISAR on a ground search for a missing man from the Dungeness crab F/V Pacific Dynasty. Two men and a dog had left the fishing vessel on Thursday afternoon in an inflatable raft to go beachcombing on Tugidak Island. They were last seen by the vessel’s Captain late Thursday evening where it appeared to him they were getting into the raft to leave the island to come back to the boat. They never arrived. The captain of the F/V Pacific Dynasty had been able to contact another fishing vessel before daybreak to assist in the search for the missing men at dawn. They located one man, found deceased on the beach and partially buried in the sand, and retrieved the dog alive.

Wielebski contacted KISAR member Nick Szabo at 12:00 noon to help with the call out for available KISAR members.  Around 14:00 KISAR member Shea Long and Wielebski arrived at Air Station Kodiak with 24-hour packs.  KISAR had VHF radios and sat phone for comms.  KISAR members were issued flight suits, helmets, life vests and left at approximately 14:45 for the flight to Tugidak in an H-60.

The CG helo dropped Wielebski and Long off by landing on the beach near the inflatable raft that was found about a mile east of where the Captain last saw the men alive.  The Captain had asked the CG to search west of where the raft was located.  Wielebski and Long found some foot tracks and dog tracks that  looked as if they were heading in the direction of an old building about a mile away so the KISAR team searched the building and looped back to the inflatable.  Wielebski and Long then headed west along the beach for at least a mile (based on a recorded track in Gaia) when they were contacted by the helicopter crew that the CG was ready to pick KISAR up for the flight back to Kodiak. Wielebski and Long arrived back at the CG base at approximately 19:00 and the search was suspended.

2020 Tugidak 04

2020 Tugidak 02

2020 Tugidak

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June SAR Mission on Pyramid Mountain


KISAR members Steve and Sharon Wielebski were on Pyramid Mountain at the time that three hikers, a woman and her two young children, went missing and the Wielebskis initiated the call out. The Wielebskis had seen a 3rd party of hikers on the mountain and later encountered those same people again in the parking lot after the hike. The 3rd party said they were waiting for the woman and her 2 children who should have been down by that time. The Wielebskis did not encounter the woman and her children on the trail and became concerned that they may have accidentally lost the trail and gone down a different side of Pyramid in limited visibility on the upper mountain due to clouds. They called KISAR member Philip Tschersich around 9:30 PM from the mountain and he passed the info along to KISAR member Nick Szabo. Szabo contacted Trooper Page who was aware of the incident. Szabo investigated via Facebook and determined the lost adult was friends with a KISAR member and was able to contact the lost person’s father, who was able to provide the lost person’s address. The lost person’s vehicle at the Pyramid parking area had a flat tire and there was reason to believe that the family may have left the area via the road or another vehicle due to the tire. The Wielebskis also informed Military Police at the USCG base and the Air Station prepared to launch a helicopter. KISAR started going through their roster to find out who was available. Tschersich turned the KISAR point-of-contact duties over to Szabo at that time. We had identified KISAR members Michael Gibbs, Kyle Setta, Lydia Cullum, and Tschersich as available, and the Wielebskis were already on the scene. The Wielebskis only had a cell for comms. When Tschersich arrived at the Pyramid parking area there was a Trooper on the scene. Gibbs was there and Setta soon arrived. Cullum was about 45 minutes out due to logistics. The Trooper had a radio with Trooper Simplex 1 (155.250 MHz). KISAR planned on using that frequency until a CG helicopter arrived and then KISAR planned to switch to VHF 23a (157.150 MHz). Some KISAR members also had Garmin inReach units. Just as the KISAR party at the parking area started to climb the trail around 11:30 PM to assist on the mountain, the Wielebskis came into cell phone range and announced that they had the missing party with them and were descending. The USCG helicopter deployment was cancelled. KISAR members in the parking area could see their headlamps descending the upper Jibber Bowl and climbed up to meet them. KISAR handed out more headlamps and all descended together. Cullum arrived soon after and joined the group on the descent. All parties were back at the Pyramid parking lot by 1:00 AM.

June-2020-Pyramid-Incident-MapPmid Rescue

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KISAR May training

For our May training I have set up another geocaching course, this time on Near Island. For folks who know all the smaller social trails the hiking part of this will be easy. If you aren’t familiar with the lesser traveled tracks, this will introduce you some of them. When I walked it recently it was less than 3 miles and it took less than 1.5 hours.

Rather than enter all the waypoints before entering the course, I am only providing the starting waypoint (57.78688, -152.39272). Once you find it, the next waypoint will be written on the Tyvek tag at that location. Each waypoint tag will give you the location of the next one. The main object of this exercise is to learn how to switch between coordinate systems in Gaia when entering waypoint data. We will be using all 5 of Gaia’s available coordinate systems. You can switch between coordinate systems under Settings > Units > Coordinate Type… The options are:

Decimal degrees (D.d)
Degrees and decimal minutes (Dm.m)
Degrees, minutes, and seconds (Dms)
Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM)
Military Grid Reference System (MGRS)

Most of us are familiar with geodetic polar coordinate systems like latitude and longitude, but some of us may not have spent much time using UTM or MGRS. Both are based on the same metric square grid overlay of the surface of the earth and only differ in their notation. An explanation of how UTM and MGRS grids are generated and what the values mean is outside the scope of this particular exercise, but if you want to geek out on the subject this video is pretty comprehensive for explaining UTM: This website offers some cool coordinate conversion tools:

The Tyvek tag you will be encountering at each waypoint will look something like this:

Waypoint Tag

You will want to document the letter or number inside the quotation marks for each waypoint. Like the last training you will need to decipher what phrase they create once you have them all, and then navigate to the location indicated and note what you see there (an additional step). Email the results to tscheezy @ yahoo DOT com when you are finished. If you want to practice entering a coordinate in Gaia, use the MGRS value in the example tag. Switch to the necessary coordinate unit in the settings first, then return to the map and drop your waypoint and enter the values. It should put you in the small boat harbor downtown.

Again, the starting location for this course in decimal degrees (D.d) is: 57.78688, -152.39272

Please send an email to Steve Wielebski, Nick Szabo, and Mike Gibbs so we can keep track of who is doing the course. Near Island is a safe place, but we need to document who participates in these trainings for insurance coverage and to let the Troopers know we still exist.

Steve: orionssports AT yahoo DOT com
Nick: kisar1986 AT gmail DOT com
Mike: gibbsm24 AT hotmail DOT com

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KISAR April Training

Yes, team, we are having an April training! But in keeping with the critical importance surrounding social distancing we are going to avail ourselves of ‘teleworking’. To that end I have set up a geocaching course out at Termination Point. The purpose of this training is to practice navigation with the Gaia app. Below I will provide the latitude and longitude for 11 Navy Seal course orienteering points. For those of you who have participated in the previous small-teams training we conducted out at Termination Point, some of the locations will be familiar, but many will not. Some reside in parts of the Termination Point forest that very few people visit.

At each of the 11 locations you will find a small Tyvek sign with “KISAR” in blue permanent marker, below which there will be either a letter or number (see the example below where the # will be replaced with an alpha-numeric character). You will need to record this letter or number from each location. After locating all 11 symbols, rearrange them to form a common phrase (yes, it’s a puzzle, but this shouldn’t be too challenging). After you complete these tasks let me know directly via an email to: tscheezy AT yahoo DOT com (don’t reply to kisar emails which go to everyone). Every KISAR member who completes this training by the end of April wins a sew-on KISAR patch (yay, prizes!).


This is a pretty challenging course complete with swamps, devil’s club and salmonberry patches, dense forest and windfall. I know the area well and it took me over 3 hours and I traveled 6.6 miles setting up the course. You should assume it will take you longer, so don’t wait until the afternoon to get started. I HIGHLY recommend you record your track in Gaia because it forces your phone to update your location constantly. If you don’t record, your phone may take a long time to acquire your location again in the dense trees. If you need to bone up on your Gaia skills, this is a very comprehensive tutorial: Gaia GPS Tutorial. The main thing you will need to be able to do is create a new waypoint, and then change the latitude and longitude values to move that waypoint to the correct location. You can enter these at home before heading out. Here are the 11 locations:

1. 57.84131, -152.42726
2. 57.84168, -152.42127
3. 57.84677, -152.41010
4. 57.84824, -152.41483
5. 57.85127, -152.42423
6. 57.86077, -152.43079
7. 57.86126, -152.43293
8. 57.86121, -152.42729
9. 57.86089, -152.42525
10. 57.85168, -152.42930
11. 57.84811, -152.42653

Please note that the free version of Gaia does not offer the use of cached maps for offline use, and part of this course does not have cell coverage. Keep that in mind before you head out. Gaia is an excellent app and essential for the work we do. Consider getting the basic paid version ($17 per year or $60 for 5 years at Other good quality GPS apps are available for free or low cost like ViewRanger.

Treat this like a real training and bring a well-provisioned pack with communication resources (at least half the course has no cell coverage), cell phone battery backup, food & water, clothing, first aid & safety gear, and maybe even a light shelter and stove. The Coastal Trail is in good shape with very little snow or ice, but the inland trails are very icy. Microspikes (or similar) are mandatory and I highly recommend trekking poles. The forest is littered with deer carcasses and those deer which are still alive are very weak, so keep that in mind if you bring your pet. I have seen no bear sign but take the normal precautions. For safety reasons I recommend doing this in pairs so if there is someone you feel safe going with (you have been in quarantine with them) proceed as normal. If you go with another person that you have not been in quarantine with, please drive out in separate cars and travel together but stay appropriately physically distanced during the day. If someone really wants to do this training but can’t find a partner, send me an email and I would be happy to tag along. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me (tscheezy AT yahoo DOT com).

In order to comply with the training safety plan I submitted to the State Troopers, all members (or one representative from each group) participating in this activity need to send an email to me, Nick, and Steve before you deploy to Termination Point and a second one after you return to town. The first email announcing your intention to do the course can be anytime prior to heading out and should state your estimated time out conducting the training, but the followup email when you return to town should be sent asap so that we know you are back safely. I appreciate everyone following these simple sign-in / sign-out measures.

Have fun and be safe!

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KISAR During Coronavirus

While KISAR’s normal meeting and training schedules have been suspended during the current coronavirus crisis, we can still stay abreast of the most current and relevant information facing our community and mission. There is plenty of news out there and much of it is highly stress inducing.  But real, objective knowledge can be empowering and a means to ground yourself in the midst of what can otherwise feel like information chaos.

To this end I would recommend the following lecture on the novel coronavirus and the resulting pathology, called COVID-19. The epidemiology (the first third of the video) and virology/pathology (second third) are very instructive for those of us who have enjoyed and benefited from Deb Ajango’s wilderness first aid classes and her explainers at the whiteboard. The final third (laboratory/clinical analysis) is rich with medical jargon and somewhat outside the normal scope of most of our training, but nonetheless very interesting.

Youtube: Coronavirus: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, Diagnostics

Closer to home, I would also like to recommend watching Dr Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, update Alaskans on the statewide COVID-19 situation as part of Governor Dunleavy’s weekday press conferences. Her contributions are incredibly smart, accessible, direct, information rich, utterly topical, plainly and succinctly delivered, and filled with humility and empathy.

State of Alaska Vimeo (click “watch again”): daily COVID-19 Press Briefing

You have probably heard this a thousand times, but finally, please redouble your efforts to protect yourself, your immediate social network, and the greater community. Don’t grow complacent thinking, “there are no reported cases in Kodiak and relatively few across the state.” No community touched by this virus ever lamented having prepared too much. To the contrary, they all regretted not having done more. Kindness and generosity (and social distancing) are a sign of strength. So stay strong, Kodiak! And give a gentle but firm reminder to those not showing social responsibility: it could literally save a life. But please, take care of yourself too. We are incredibly blessed with wild open spaces right outside our doors where we can get fresh air and exercise- so important to mental health and also immune function- and use these resources with no danger to our community. And please give thanks to the selfless and dedicated healthcare professionals standing between us and catastrophe. Help them to help us: venerate from a safe distance.
Be well, and stay well.
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KISAR meeting March 19 canceled

As a volunteer public service organization dedicated to protecting the safety, health, and welfare of our island community, it is doubly incumbent on us to exercise the utmost caution and best practices in these (and all) circumstances. The Kodiak Island Borough’s Coronavirus mitigation plan has closed some nonessential public buildings, and Chief Rue has closed the Bayside Fire Hall’s training space until further notice. With this in mind, KISAR is suspending general membership meetings and will evaluate outdoor training opportunities on a case by case basis.
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KISAR meeting February 20

KISAR will hold its general membership meeting Thursday February 20 at 7 PM at Bayside Fire Hall.

Following the general membership meeting (~7:30 PM) Chris Bruno will present a slideshow and lecture on avalanche awareness including snowpack, weather, terrain, and human factors.



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