BSAR honors two members for rescuing family from open water

From right are BSAR President Mike Riley, and BSAR Members Tom Martini, Jeff, Evon, and Perry Barr at last Friday's award ceremony. photo by Greg Lincoln

by K.J. Lincoln

The Bethel Search and Rescue group held a special awards ceremony for two of their members – Tom Martini and Jeff Evon who saved a family who fell into open water this winter.

A legislative citation from the Alaska Legislature was awarded to the two for their courageous acts that took place on New Years Eve.

The awards ceremony began with the invocation by Larry Black, a longtime member of BSAR. Everyone enjoyed the Thai dinner prepared by Malada Vongsamath, which was sponsored by the Bethel Lions Club in appreciation of BSAR. Pad Thai, chicken curry, and the fried spring rolls were applauded by the attendees.

The ceremony included a reading of the legislative citation issued to Martini and Evon, which was read by BSAR member Perry Barr. The citation was sponsored by Senator Lyman Hoffman of Bethel, Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, and Senate President Pete Kelly.

Special guests included the families of Tom Martini and Jeff Evon, members of the Bethel Search and Rescue group, Mayor Richard Robb, Fire Chief Bill Howell, City of Bethel Police Chief Burke Waldron, and YKHC’s Interim Public Relations Director Mitchell Forbes.

Each said a few words of appreciation for Martini and Evon.

“Without them we could have lost more of them,” said BSAR President Mike Riley who encouraged the younger generation of BSAR Members. “You are very much appreciated. I’ve been out on missions with Tom and Jeff and they do very good out in the field.”

Riley thanked the other supporting emergency responder organizations for their good partnership with BSAR: the Bethel Police Department, the Fire Department, and YKHC. He gave special thanks to the City of Bethel for the grant bestowed to BSAR to help continue with their work.

“Congratulations to Tom and Jeff for what you did,” he concluded. “Part of BSAR is prevention for the people traveling between villages…I hope the tragedies stop. Thank you to all the BSAR members for all your volunteering.”

A member of the rescued family was also present. She expressed her thanks and gratitude to the two responders who saved them.

“I am really glad you were there and for saving me and my family,” she said.

Here is the Legislative Citation:

The Alaska State Legislature Honoring Tom Martini, Jeff Evon, and the Bethel Search and Rescue

The members of the Thirtieth Alaska State Legislature commend Tom Martini, Jeff Evon and the ever vigilant and responsive Bethel Search and Rescue (BSAR) for their brave rescue of the Kasayulie Family of Akiachak at the end of the year.

On New Year’s Eve 2017, a distress call came into the BSAR office that a family had fallen through the ice up river from Bethel on the Kuskokwim. A team was immediately dispatched and went on their search, turning right at the “Y” above Bethel. A second team, which included Mr. Martini and Mr. Evon, followed and turned left at the “Y”. Searching in the dark, Mr. Martini noticed a blinking light. This blinking light was a flashlight from one of the family members’ waterproof phones that they used to call for help. That little blinking light helped save their lives.

Tom Martini tied a rope to his torso and Jeff Evon tied the other end to the snow-machine. They called the ambulance service in Bethel and asked them to stand by at a rendezvous point for the hand off. As Mr. Martini crawled out on the ice toward the family, he gave them reassurances and instruction. There were three young boys and their mother who had been submerged, but managed to get out. Her sister was too exhausted and hypothermic to exit the water on her own power. Unfortunately, their father, Mark Kasayulie never emerged.

Assessing the situation, Mr. Martini got the Aunt out of the water first, getting her to the sled and covered her with his own jacket. He went back to retrieve the rest of the family. Mr. Martini wrapped the family in extra clothes he brought, and took off his own dry boots to replace the youngest boy’s soaked ones. They brought the family back to town and handed them off to the awaiting ambulances.

This was Tom Martini’s first rescue. He was impressed by all the things that family did to survive. The next day, search and rescue volunteers from Bethel, Kwethluk, and Akiachak recovered Mr. Kasayulie’s body. They then staked more markers around the perilous open water.

Bethel Search and Rescue was started in the 1970s to fill the gap in public safety institutions and services in the wilderness surrounding town and connecting villages. Today, it has over 60 volunteers. BSAR is incredibly dedicated to search and rescue missions, as the people and communities of the Kuskokwim are really one big family. They live and breathe for public safety, and share in the sorrow when rescuers are not successful, and the joy when they are.

The members of the Thirtieth Alaska State Legislature applaud the heroic services of Tom Martini, Jeff Evon and the BSAR. Their many volunteer members have served for decades, including a first-time volunteer who helped a surviving family see that their father’s body was recovered and properly put to rest. The search for, and provisions of aid to people in distress or imminent danger remains vital to all Alaskans.


The citation is dated January 24, 2018.