A DEADLY YEAR FOR ALASKA BOATERS
The first half of Alaska's 1998 boating season is shaping up as the deadliest of the decade, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Coast Guard boating safety specialist Sue Hargis said 20 people have died in the state so far this year. Only 23 died in all of last year. Thirty-two people died in 1992, the most of the decade -- but still well below the 53 recorded in 1986.
"Since 1992," she said, "the rate had been dropping. In 1996, there were only 14 (dead). This is a bad year. I'm pretty alarmed." Most deaths have come in accidents involving people in outboard-powered skiffs or human-powered canoes and kayaks. Southcentral Alaska has seen an unusually high number of the deaths in the latter category.
At least five people have died in Southcentral canoeing accidents since mid-May. The first came on Cheney Lake in Anchorage, followed by deaths on the Kenai Peninsula, the Susitna Valley and the Copper River basin.
CHENEY LAKE IN MULDOON.
Donovan Carrick and Jason Green of Anchorage, both 23, were enjoying a day paddling on the Anchorage lake when their canoe overturned 75 yards from shore in mid-May. Neither man wore a personal flotation device (PFD). Both tried to swim to a nearby beach. Green was rescued by two people in an inflatable raft. Carrick sank out of sight in 12 feet of water.
Divers found him 20 minutes later and managed to revive him, but he later died at Alaska Regional Hospital.
A POND NEAR STERLING
Less than a month later, 18-year-old Jeremy Rollins of Anchorage was canoeing with a 17-year-old friend on a small, unnamed lake near Mile 89 on the Sterling Highway, not far from Soldotna, when their boat overturned.
Rollins was wearing a PFD, but he hadn't fastened it around his body. When he hit the water, the life jacket came off. Rollins, who could not swim, drowned. His companion was rescued.
FINGER LAKE IN MAT-SU
About a week later, 17-year-old Brandon McManamy of Wasilla and two friends overturned a canoe near a small island on Finger Lake, along Bogard Road about halfway between Palmer and Wasilla. None of the teenagers wore a PFD. They tried to swim 75 yards to the nearest shore.
Christopher Erickson, 16, made it and woke up a camper with a boat. Lance Fleury, 18, went part way before turning back to the safety of the overturned canoe. He was rescued there, clinging to the craft's hull.
McManamy, who also started for shore, never made it. Searchers needed almost 12 hours to find his body.
TURNAGAIN ARM NEAR HOPE
Only three days later, a canoe paddled by 52-year-old Carl Snyder of Anchorage and 24-year-old Derek Snyder, his son, rolled in tidal rapids near Hope as the two men tried to cross Turnagain Arm from Bird Creek to the Kenai Peninsula. Both men were wearing life jackets, but the tide sucked them out of the Arm toward Cook Inlet. The last time Derek was seen alive, he was standing on a sandbar.
His body was found by rescuers a day later. Carl Snyder barely survived after being swept along in the current for miles before reaching shore. The younger Snyder, according to the state medical examiner, drowned in the turbulent water despite the fact he was wearing a life jacket. Rescuers found his body floating in the PFD. Had it not been for sunshine and the heat-collecting powers of black, coastal rocks, the elder Snyder said he suspects he would have died of hypothermia.
KLUTINA RIVER NEAR COPPER CENTER
Fast water climbed the life of another paddler about a week later. Twenty-four-year-old Krist Anderson of Fairbanks was last seen July 5 clinging to a rock in the Klutina River, a Copper River tributary near Copper Center. He had been canoeing the Klutina with 23-year-old James Pagel of Fairbanks when their inflatable boat overturned in the fast, boulder-strewn stream. Pagel, who was wearing a PFD, made his way to shore and survived. Anderson, who was not wearing a PFD, was eventually torn off the rock by the force of the raging current and died.