Friend speaks out about last time he saw missing hunter on Alaska trip
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - It has been months since Steve Keel disappeared after going on a hunting trip in Alaska.
For the first time, WSMV4 is hearing from Keel’s friend who went on that trip with him.
“We went together, and we should have come home together,” Bryan Collins said.
Collins is the last person who saw Keel, who vanished on the Alaskan hunting trip the two took together in August. It was both their first time to Alaska.
“I think about it all the time. I always wonder what I could have done,” Collins said.
Collins said Keel dropped off a pack of meat about a half mile away from their camp one day and went back to get it the next morning.
“He said, ‘I will be right back. I am going to find that pack,’” Collins said. “That was the last time I saw him.”
Collins said he looked for Keel for 24 hours before reporting Keel missing.
WSMV4 asked Collins why he waited so long before reporting Keel missing.
“When you are hunting, we would separate for a day at a time several times,” Collins said. “The last thing you want to do is get everyone out looking for you when you are fine. That’s always been our plan. Give us a day.”
Collins said that 24-hour contingency was the plan he and Keel had for all the other hunting trips they went on together out west over a 10-year span.
“I would love some type of closure to know what really happened, especially for his family,” Collins said.
Keel’s wife of 38 years, Liz, said she hopes her husband returns to their Dover, Tennessee, home.
“My heart says he is coming home, absolutely,” Liz Keel said. “My heart also knows no matter what, I will see him again.”
Liz Keel and Collins are both critical of local authorities in Alaska for not doing a ground search immediately after Collins reported Keel missing.
Since Collins was the last person to see Keel, WSMV4 asked if he had anything to do with Keel’s disappearance or knows where he is.
“Absolutely not,” Collins said. “Steve was a very close friend. I love Steve like a brother. Maybe I should have went with him to get that pack. I think about those things all the time.”
WSMV4 reached out to North Slope Search and Rescue for comment.
“There was a ground search, and over $200,000 spent in helicopter equipment and fuel,” North Slope Borough Public Information Officer David Fauske said. “This man never set foot in one of our communities. He didn’t have a permit to hunt in the area. He didn’t have Arctic gear on him or with him, and he wore camouflage clothing which made the helicopter searches extremely difficult.”
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