Jackson County

Bodies of Ocean Springs woman’s parents pulled from Alaska lake after snow machine mishap

LaVerne Pettigen, mother of LaTisha Pettigen of Ocean Springs, loved snow machining. Her remains were found in Big Lake, Alaska, Friday. The search was continuing Saturday for her husband, Van Pettigen. The Anchorage, Alaska, couple disappeared a week ago after taking a snow machine ride before they planned to fly out to spend the holidays with family.
LaVerne Pettigen, mother of LaTisha Pettigen of Ocean Springs, loved snow machining. Her remains were found in Big Lake, Alaska, Friday. The search was continuing Saturday for her husband, Van Pettigen. The Anchorage, Alaska, couple disappeared a week ago after taking a snow machine ride before they planned to fly out to spend the holidays with family. Courtesy LaTisha Pettigen

LaTisha Pettigen of Ocean Springs is mourning the loss of her parents after her mother’s body were retrieved from an Alaska lake on Friday.

Her father’s remains were recovered Saturday about 25 yards from where her mother was found.

LaVerne Pettigen, 64, and Van Pettigen, 66, disappeared a week ago after riding their snow machines Dec. 14 at Big Lake, which has 67 miles of shoreline and typically freezes over this time of year.

The couple’s snow machines have been found.

LaTisha Pettigen posted this on her Facebook page: “The loss is killing me inside, but to know they are together and walking on the streets of gold in heaven is some kind of ease. Now I just hope and pray that every tomorrow will shine brighter than yesterday.”

Laverne Pettigen’s body was found in icy waters Friday after searchers found her helmet in ice the previous day, an Alaska state trooper told ktuu.com. The lake is 70 feet deep in the area where she was found, a state trooper said.

LaTisha Pettigen on Saturday told the Sun Herald she walked with a rescue guide 10 miles in 8-degree weather and deep snow, calling out her parents’ names.

The use of sonar spotted her mother’s helmet, and she was found near her helmet under the ice.

“I wasn’t far when they spotted the helmet,” she said. “I am thankful I didn’t see it. Just to identify her was traumatic.”

“She was covered in ice and they couldn’t see her face. They brought me a picture of her but just had me verify the wedding ring on her finger. I never knew I could feel such pain inside.”

Pettigen said Alaska State Troopers have been “very helpful and compassionate. Along with all the Big Lake community.”

“We are currently waiting for daylight to find my dad,” she said before her father was found. “I hate that he is still alone out there in the cold. My dad is my best friend and I pray they find him today.”

Earlier Friday, volunteers posted on Facebook that the area had widespread thin ice and slush that made it hard to see areas of open water. The area has had five to six hours of daylight each day since the couple disappeared.

The Pettigens, who lived in Anchorage, have owned a condo at Big Lake for 10 years and were experienced snow machine riders, their daughter said.

Pettigen owns CrossFit in Ocean Springs. She grew up in Anchorage, and returns to Alaska for weeks at a time every summer to enjoy commercial fishing.

She spoke to the Sun Herald on Wednesday before she flew to Alaska to help search and see if she could follow where she knows her mother liked to ride.

She said she talked to her father for about an hour by phone on Dec. 14, but hadn’t spoken to her parents since.

Her parents had planned an afternoon snow machine ride and to catch a flight to Tennessee, arriving Tuesday to spend the holidays with family, according to ktva.com. They didn’t make the flight.

LaVerne and Van Pettigen were both realtors for 20 years. Her mother grew up in Alaska and her father moved to Alaska through an Air Force relocation in the 1970s.

Their disappearance made headlines throughout Alaska and across the United States.

How they were discovered missing

Their daughter says she texted both of them over last weekend but received no response.

Neighbors found the couple’s wallet, purse and other personal items in their condo after family members got worried. Their cars were covered with snow but their snow machines were missing, ktuu.com has reported.

They had been riding a 2000 Black Polaris 500 and a 2014 Yamaha Dark Blue Vector.

Alaska State Troopers and National Guard began to search, and a helicopter from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, a military base in Anchorage, was sent up to help, ktva.com has reported. The helicopter is an HH-60 Pave Hawk, a search-and-rescue helicopter used by Air Force special tactics teams and pararescuemen.

The couple’s last phone message was about 10:53 a.m. Sunday and involved property someone wanted LaVerne Pettigen to show them in Anchorage.

Around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday a cellphone signal ping drew searches to focus on a certain area.

Big Lake is said to have the most popular snow machine trail system in Alaska.

Big Lake Trails, a nonprofit advocacy group, shared a Facebook post Tuesday asking for volunteers to search the next day. More than 100 volunteers gathered to search.

“What a great crowd of folks who genuinely cared and took care of each other,” Big Lake Trails posted on its Facebook page Wednesday regarding the turnout of volunteers.

“The community is blessed to have such great people.”

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