North

Message in a bottle carries greetings from Soviet-era captain to Alaska

A man found a 50-year-old message in a bottle on the shores of Shishmaref, Alaska, with greetings from the captain of a Soviet-era ship.

'It’s really cool to see the history behind this,' says Tyler Ivanoff

Tyler Ivanoff holds the bottle with a message inside he found while collecting firewood on the shores of Shishmaref, Alaska. (The Associated Press)

It's the stuff of movies and TV: walking along the shore, someone spots a bottle protruding from the sand, a yellowed letter furled inside carrying a message from abroad. 

For one man in Alaska, that scene came to life earlier this month when he found a message in a bottle cast into the sea by a Soviet-era sailor. 

Tyler Ivanoff, who works at the school in Shishmaref, Alaska, says he stumbled upon the green glass bottle while gathering firewood along the coast. He brought it back to show his partner and kids who were picking berries. 

"They wanted me to open it up so they were really excited to see what kind of message it was," he said. "They were kind of thinking it was a pirate message or a treasure map or something because they see it on cartoons a lot." 

Tyler Ivanoff, who teaches at the school in Shishmaref, Alaska, says his kids were excited to see what was inside the bottle he found. (Facebook/Tyler Ivanoff)

Ivanoff says he gently pried the plastic cork free with a screwdriver and pulled out the letter inside. He noticed it was written in Russian. 

An old form of communication met new when Ivanoff posted a photo of the letter to Facebook asking for help translate it. The response he got was overwhelming.  

"I was thinking maybe one or two people might have commented but everybody started tagging everybody and it kind of got shared a lot," he said. "Over a thousand shares in a day or two."

Ivanoff learned the letter, dated June 20, 1969, contained greetings from Captain Anatoly Botsanenko of the Sulak, a refrigerated cargo ship from the Soviet Union's Far East shipping fleet. 

The story of the message in a bottle gained international attention, appearing in the news across the United States, Russia, Canada and the U.K. But it was the state-owned TV channel Russia 1 that tracked down the man who penned the letter. 

While Botsaneko, now 86, no longer lives at the address on the message he wrote decades ago, Russia 1 correspondent Pavel Melnik tracked him down in Sevastopol, Crimea.

"It was like a test of endurance for me and my team to find the person in time," Melnik said of the search to find the captain. 

In a TV interview for the channel, Botsanenko, wearing his Navy uniform adorned with medals and badges, doesn't recognize the letter at first until he sees his signoff. 

Botsanenko explains he oversaw the construction of the Sulak in Japan in 1966 and said at 33-years-old he was the youngest captain in the Pacific Ocean.

"My first impression was, such a beautiful story," said Melnik. "I saw tears in his eyes. Unforgettable."

Ivanoff says he wants to hang onto the letter for his kids and while he's been busy this summer working, boating and picking berries, he'd like to connect with the captain. He said his kids are also curious after seeing Russia 1's interview. 

"It's really cool to see the history behind this, you know it's not just a random person it was somebody who was a captain of a ship when he was like 33 years old." 

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