Alaska-based Coast Guardsman demonstrates passion for SAR


Lt. Nicholas Beheler, executive officer North Pacific Regional Fisheries Training Center. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

The Coast Guard, Kodiak Island Search and Rescue, and the Alaska State Troopers are responsible for assisting and rescuing people who run into trouble in Kodiak Island’s backcountry.

Lt. Nicholas Beheler is a Coast Guard officer and a member of KISAR. By day he is the executive officer of the Coast Guard’s North Pacific Regional Fisheries Training Center dedicated to ensuring Coast Guard boarding teams are prepared to conduct fisheries and safety boardings on commercial fishing vessels throughout Alaska. In his spare time he volunteers with KISAR.

Beheler grew up outside Washington D.C., and is part of a very outdoorsy family who developed an interest in outdoor recreation and search and rescue. He earned a degree in recreation and parks management from Frostburg State University and went on to lead high adventure trips in the Midwest and Colorado.

Beheler joined the Coast Guard in 2008 and attended officer candidate school in New London, Conn. His first posting was as a search and rescue controller in Jacksonville, Fla. He attended the National Search and Rescue School to build his skills and as a SAR controller Beheler directed the prosecution of SAR cases throughout the Sector Jacksonville area of responsibility. This was done by collecting information, planning searches and directing the launch and use of Coast Guard crews and working with local, state and federal SAR partners. That tour was followed by his transfer to Kodiak, Alaska.

According to Beheler he joined the Coast Guard to conduct search and rescue activities and when he moved to Kodiak he wanted to stay involved with the SAR community so he joined KISAR.

Belay system KISAR

A belay system is built during training with Kodiak Island Search and Rescue Nov. 5, 2011. Photo courtesy of KISAR.

KISAR is one of 48 professional volunteer search and rescue agencies in the state and is a subunit of the Alaska Search and Rescue Association. From 2007 to 2009 the members of these organizations have saved more than 1,400 lives. KISAR was founded in 1986 and is currently led by Steve Wielebski a local businessman who has been with KISAR from the beginning. KISAR is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide SAR and outdoor education resources to the public to increase awareness for outdoor safety and assist those in need.

“SAR was always something I had an interest in,” said Beheler. “It combines my love of the outdoors with the ability to help others and educate them in ways to safely enjoy nature.”

With KISAR Beheler has partaken in twice monthly training opportunities and monthly meetings. The training has ranged from helicopter delivery to climbing and rescue training to first aid.

“We do a lot of high angle rope rescue training, we did some winter travel training, we had the Alaska Avalanche School come over and give us training and we are doing an avalanche training actually in March,” said Beheler.

Beheler’s Coast Guard and KISAR roles collided on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, when KISAR was called upon to assist the Alaska State Troopers and the Coast Guard to search for Derek Winn Russell of Hollis Center, Md., a 20-year-old member of the Coast Guard Cutter Munro who was reported overdue from climbing trip of nearby Barometer Mountain by a roommate.

The weather conditions during the search were cold and windy with blowing snow that limited helicopter participation in the search the first day. Beheler was part of the initial search team. Barometer is just over 2,000 feet tall. It’s very steep and searchers were challenged by icy conditions. Coast Guard helicopter crews, KISAR teams and Coast Guardsmen volunteered their time for three days to search the mountain. Beheler was part of the team who recovered Russell from about 1,200 feet up the mountain. Sadly Russell had suffered a fatal fall. All told Beheler spent between 12 and 15 hours on the mountain between the two days he was part of the search effort.

“It was a tragic event,” said Beheler. “It was eye-opening to be a part of the on the ground coordination and to conduct a search with four separate agencies including the Coast Guard, Alaska State Troopers, KISAR and the Alaska Search and Rescue Association from Anchorage who provided search dogs.”

KISARThe Coast Guard and KISAR use the Incident Command System to coordinate operations across jurisdictions. ICS is designed to allow multiple agencies to bring their resources to bear for an incident ranging from SAR to pollution response to a homeland security threat and work together without stepping on each other or doubling efforts.

“Before the Coast Guard I had not worked with ICS and it’s a well designed system that is widely used by the military and the civilian sectors,” said Beheler. “It allows us to work together to coordinate searches faster and more effectively so we have fewer bumps in those first critical hours.”

Beheler plans to leave the Coast Guard at the completion of his current tour to return to the outdoor community but feels he has learned a great deal about SAR operations and coordination from his time in the service that will prove useful in the future. His love of the outdoors and passion to educate has not waned and he plans to return to guiding high adventure trips.

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