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Friends of missing German press on with search in frozen Arctic Alaska

Craig Medred
Courtesy Gitte Stryhn

Despite the slim chance adventurer Thomas Seibold remains alive in Alaska's cold and remote Brooks Range, the Teaching Drum Outdoor School in Wisconsin says it is going to press on with a search for the 31-year-old man or his body. The school, where Seibold taught outdoors survival, is now trying to enlist the help of the National Park Service and raise funds to organize a ground search by local residents in Northwest Alaska.

In a press release Friday, Teaching Drum founder and director Tamarack Song indicated that materials turned over to the school by Alaska State Troopers indicate early search efforts may have been conducted in the wrong area. After Seibold, a German national, was reported missing in early November, troopers flew to a cabin where he had been staying, and found his personal affects. They then searched the area, including the route he was expected to travel from the cabin to the village of Kobuk. They found no sign of Seibold.

Over the course of 13 days, the agency conducted six flights to look for Seibold. In the meantime, a letter Seibold had been writing to his wife -- Maggie Traylor, an editor for Teaching Drum's publishing arm -- was sent to Wisconsin. Troopers earlier refused to provide copies of Seibold's writing to the Dispatch. The Troopers ended their search efforts Nov. 24. Some members of Teaching Drum subsequently flew to Ambler to investigate, and the school began going over Seibold's writings.

According to the press release Friday, Maggie Traylor’s writings and documents revealed some information about where Seibold might be. The press release said:

An assessment of those belongings and subsequent interviews with Ambler-area residents who met Thomas revealed some new clues:

  • A missing map section that Thomas may have with him indicates an interest in exploring the headwaters of the Imelyac, Amakomanek, Cutler, and Redstone Rivers, along with the Ambler River.
  • When the owner of the cabin where Thomas had been staying departed, he handed her a book he’d just finished reading, “The Last Light Breaking” by Nick Jans. A well-worn section describes traditional Eskimo routes through the same headwaters area as on the missing map.
  • Area residents told Thomas alluring stories of the headwaters' beauty and wildlife, and Thomas had read several other books on the area.
  • Thomas's last diary entry includes this sentence: "After I've read a lot about … this area, it's exciting to actually be here, and to see the things with my own eyes."

The Ambler River headwater area that interested Seibold lies primarily within the 6.5-million-acre Noatak National Preserve and the adjacent Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, which sprawls across 8.5 million acres of wilderness. The park service maintains an area office in Kotzebue, from which search efforts for Seibold originated, and has a small air force at its disposal in the 49th state. However, it had not previously been asked to help in the search.

"Only 25 percent of the 20-by-30 mile headwaters area has been searched," Teaching Drum said in the press release. "To shift the search to those areas, Park Service cooperation will be sought. In addition, a ground search utilizing professional trackers and snowmobiles is being organized."

The group is soliciting contributions to help meet expenses at: Recovery Fund for Thomas Seibold, First National Bank, PO Box 627, Three Lakes, WI 54562

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com