Search dogs and ground crews hunt for clues of Fairbanks’ missing persons

Published: May. 15, 2021 at 7:25 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Two complex searches got underway Saturday in hopes of finding answers for those that have gone missing in the interior.

The Alaska Search and Rescue Emergency Response Team (ASAR)

Volunteers gather inside the Hannah Solomon building off Wendel Street in Fairbanks.  Tears...
Volunteers gather inside the Hannah Solomon building off Wendel Street in Fairbanks. Tears were shed and hugs were shared as families hold onto hope after a long winter without their loved ones.(Sarah Hollister)

In the morning hours of Saturday, family, friends, and volunteers huddled inside the Hannah Solomon building off Wendel Street in Fairbanks to hear directions and search locations.

The Alaska Search and Rescue (ASAR) Emergency Response Team administered an all-volunteer search for missing persons Frank Minano and Debbie Nictune.

Frank Minano, 69, went missing in August of 2020. Minano had reportedly stopped for firewood somewhere between Ester and Nenana. His truck was found abandoned on Standard Creek Road near Old Nenana Highway. The keys to Minano’s truck were found in a cabin about 2 ½ miles from his truck. Troopers say the cabin had been broken into and a fire was started in the fireplace.

A few days after Minano’s disappearance, Debbie Nictune, 59, vanished. She was last seen at the Northward Apartment building on Noble Street in Fairbanks.

Search groups were split between the two missing people.

“There is a lot of places to search in Fairbanks because of the rural nature… there is a lot of wooded areas,” Fawn Talladay, the ASAR Incident Commander for the search, said. “So we are taking our time, working the problems as they are discovered.”

Those searching for Minano started at Standard Creek Road, which is a few miles off the Parks Highway. Around 20 people made up of multiple teams with several search dogs went to the location to help.

Those searching for Nictune worked Fairbanks’ downtown area. Groups of people went door to door asking property owners to search their backyards, sheds, and buildings for any sign of the missing. The Chena riverbank was also searched, and a separate search dog was used in the area.

“The dogs are working the places the (missing people) would mostly like be first,” Talladay said. “We aren’t going to divulge exactly what they are doing because we want to see what they see first.”

Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR)

The Wilderness Search and Rescue volunteers met at the top of Ski Boot Hill Road to organize...
The Wilderness Search and Rescue volunteers met at the top of Ski Boot Hill Road to organize before the search.(Sarah Hollister)

Across town at the very top of Ski Boot Hill Road, another search was underway. With direction from the Alaska State Troopers, The Wilderness Search and Rescue Team mobilized search dogs to inspect what evidence may have been left after the snow melted.

“We received a couple of tips, late fall early winter last year about a couple of locations where there is possibly evidence related to them,” Alaska State Trooper Investigator Nick Sailor said. “We attempted to search those locations in wintertime and were not successful due to the heavy snowfall. In the last couple of weeks, we have done some aerial viewing with our helicopter... Now we are just doing our ground search to see if we can uncover any evidence.”

A PAWS search and rescue dog handler, Cathie Tordoff, was on location with her 9-year-old mixed pedigree dog, Vickers. Vickers has been certified by WSAR for seven years.

Tordoff explained what it takes to certify a dog.

“When we certify dogs, they have basic ability in trailing, from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ that somebody walked,” Tordoff explained. “[The dogs also have the ability to] air scent, which is clearing a large area looking for a source of the scent and then returning and telling us about it. [The dogs are trained in] human remains and water search, working from a boat to find drowning victims and also evidence, articles that smell like a specific scent article that we can match.”

PAWS Search and Rescue dog handler Cathy Tordoff gets her 9-year-old dog Vickers ready. Vickers...
PAWS Search and Rescue dog handler Cathy Tordoff gets her 9-year-old dog Vickers ready. Vickers has been a certified search dog for seven years.(Sarah Hollister)

Four dogs were on scene at the top of Ski Boot Hill Road, leading the search groups. Tordoff said she has been active in these searches all year.

“We have been very busy over the last year working a variety of searches that the Troopers have asked us, for missing people, who are on a fairly numerous list of missing people. We have been called out repeatedly on these searches, so this is not the first time that we have been working on these problems.” Tordoff said.

Investigator Sailor did not specify who they were looking for, but when asked if it was Doren Sanford or Willis Derendoff, they did say their received tips about those two in the Ski Boot Hill Road area.

“Willis Derendoff and Doren Sanford are a couple of the missing people that we have,” Sailor said. “Some of the information that we did receive was about possible evidence of their whereabouts in the area.”

Doren Sanford, 35, went missing in August of 2020 while visiting Fairbanks to look at property. Willis Derendoff, 34, vanished in November of 2020 after visiting Fairbanks from the village of Huslia. He was staying at the Extended Stay Hotel when he went missing.

“We are continuing to follow up any credible tips that we have received throughout the investigations,” Sailor added.

The Search Continues

Another community-wide search is scheduled for Sunday with the Alaska Search and Rescue Emergency Response Team.

Anyone who would like to volunteer is asked to meet at the Hannah Solomon Building at 315 Wendel Street Sunday, May 15th between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Please call (909) 907-9057 for more information on the search.

For a deeper look into these cases, please visit the Missing Persons section on our website.

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