On April 29, Nicky Myers, 59, of Pilot Station, fell through the ice of the Yukon River on his snowmobile and died. He was mayor of Pilot Station, proto-deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church, team leader for the local fire department, member of search and rescue and a family man.
This is the first riverine death in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta this year.
Myers set off down the Yukon River from Pilot Station to St. Mary’s by snowmobile on the afternoon of April 26. Her son, Nikiefer Myers, 30, had just landed after a holiday. Nikiefer thought a friend was coming to pick him up, but it was his father instead.
“It was a surprise. I was surprised to see him there,” Nikiefer said.
The two headed upriver to Pilot Station for what is normally about 40 minutes by snowmobile. His dad told him the ride downhill had been good. But in the evening on the way back it started to get bumpy.
“There were a lot of dark spots, a lot of water,” Nikiefer Saud said.
Then, suddenly, the ice turned into needles. The snowmobile stopped and began to sink. They jumped up and started swimming.
“I looked back. I saw my father struggling to swim. He had all his winter gear. I grabbed him and helped him swim,” Nikiefer said.
Nikiefer was holding onto his father and trying to find solid ice to cling to. The first piece broke off, but he finally found a solid patch and shot his dad on it. His father was weak and cold. He wanted his son to stay safe. His father told him to leave.
“I heard my dad, ‘You have to go, you have to go, come on without me,'” Nikiefer said.
His father was beginning to slip under the ice. Nikiefer took it out again.
“He had his eyes closed. He wasn’t moving. I still stayed with him for a bit. And in my head I heard another time, ‘You have to go, you have to go, you have to go without me .’ I really didn’t want to leave,” Nikiefer said.
But he went to seek help. He came ashore and got rid of his wet clothes. He was surprised to see that his phone was still working. But he had to walk, maybe a few miles, until he found service.
He called for help and local search and rescue teams rushed in. Someone called Nikiefer’s mother, Judy, and told her that her son and her husband had fallen through the ice. They asked him to gather warm blankets for the rescue effort.
“So I got everything ready,” Judy said.
She prepared two of everything, but only her son came through the door.
“And he came in and dropped on the floor crying and said he couldn’t wake up daddy,” Judy said.
Myers was dead by the time search and rescue pulled him out of the river. Alaska State Troopers came the next day to take his body to Anchorage for an autopsy. Now his family will be waiting for his body to return so they can arrange a funeral.
In the meantime, they spend time together, share memories.
Myers was born nearly 60 years ago at Pilot Station on May 12. He was the third youngest of eight children from a large Russian Orthodox family.
“We had a very good childhood. It was fun. We didn’t have many toys. But we had food, we had shelter, we had clothes, we had each other. We lived a subsistence lifestyle. We were hanging out with our parents, or fishing or berry picking, logging,” Wassillie Myers said.
Wassillie was always close to his older brother.
“He was my best friend,” Wassillie said.
Wassilie followed Myers in fighting the fires. The two traveled all over Alaska and the lower 48 fighting fires together. Nicky was the team leader and Wassilie was the team leader. The two looked so similar and acted so much that other firefighters would confuse them.
Myers also had many adventures back home in the Yukon. His wife Judy was often by his side. They would go boating or pick berries together. They have known each other forever and have been together since high school. They married almost 40 years ago, in 1984.
“I don’t know how he asked me out. We got to know each other growing up. It just happened. Yeah, said Judy.
Judy said life with Myers was happy. He was a good husband and father. He also played many other roles in the community. He was mayor of Pilot Station for years. He was mayor when he died.
Myers also served as Russian Orthodox Deacon of Pilot Station for 15 years. He went to college and later attended Saint Herman Seminary in Kodiak. He was fluent in Yup’ik and helped lead the liturgy in Yugtun, English, and Church Slavonic. Her family say her talent for languages came from her love of speaking with people.
Myers died at the end of Bright Week. It’s the week after Orthodox Easter, or Easter. His brother Wassillie said that in a way it is a blessing for an Orthodox person to die during this week.
“We’ve talked many times where, if it’s ever our time to die, that we hope to go during Easter, or during the season, so that we’ll be accepted into heaven quickly,” Wassillie said.
Wassillie said the whole family was still in shock. Myers was a mayor, deacon, father, grandfather, husband, firefighter and member of search and rescue. A death like Myers leaves a hole in a community that can’t quite be filled.
A National Weather Service spokesperson said the Yukon River monitoring team is expected to begin flying over the upper Yukon around May 6 to examine ice conditions.