Vail Valley man still missing after Aug. 4 accident on Alaska’s Kenai River |

Vail Valley man still missing after Aug. 4 accident on Alaska’s Kenai River

Suzanna Caldwell
Alaska Dispatch News
Vail Valley local Phillip Keltner, 63, has been missing since Friday following a boating accident in Alaska's Kenai River.
Alaska Dispatch News |

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Almost a dozen family members have flown thousands of miles to help find a Vail Valley man who went missing Aug. 4 on Alaska’s Kenai River. The relatives of Phillip Keltner, 63, have been mobilizing in Soldotna since the Colorado man went missing in an accident while fishing on the river.

His wife, brother and sister, their spouses and his adult children all quickly boarded flights from Colorado and California, according to his daughter, Missy Keltner, who arrived in Alaska from Los Angeles on Aug. 6.

She said the family is working with other community members to search on boats and walking up and down the river banks outside Soldotna’s Centennial Park hoping to find any clue as to where Phillip Keltner might be.

“We don’t know if he’s still in the water or if he made it to shore or got disoriented or collapsed somewhere,” Missy Keltner said in a phone interview Aug. 8. “But we’re at a loss and not giving up hope, and we’re doing our best.”

Missy Keltner said her father is an avid fisherman who splits his time between Colorado and a home in Sterling, where he spent each summer for the past 20 years. Missy said he knows the Kenai River well.

Unclear What Happened

Missy said it still wasn’t clear Aug. 8 what caused the boat accident. Her father had gone fishing with friends the night the boat lost control at river Mile 19, throwing the four men from the boat. The other three men made it to shore, but Phillip Keltner did not.

Missy said the recovered boat has cable steering. After inspecting the boat, the family wasn’t sure if it hit a rock or had some sort of malfunction. According to state troopers, none of the men were wearing life jackets.

Troopers stopped assisting in the search Aug. 5, “based on the circumstances,” spokeswoman Megan Peters said. Peters said the agency has been in contact with the family and that troopers have issued a missing person bulletin.

Peters said Alaska State Parks and Alaska Wildlife Troopers are continuing to check the area as part of their regular patrols.

Missy said the family is still looking for extra boats to assist in the search effort on the river.

Missy said the family understands her father may not have survived the accident, but she hopes that if he did make to shore that he’s still alive.

“We are his family. We want answers,” she said.

This article first appeared in the Alaska Dispatch News. It is published here with the newspaper’s permission.

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