Gary Archer 6/28/97 Sixmile Creek Rafting Drown

Physician Dies After Raft Flips - Autopsy To Determine Cause

By Danielle Stanton, ADN 6/29/97

A well-known Anchorage doctor and former travel mogul died after the raft in which he was riding flipped in a narrow, churning section of Sixmile Creek near Sunrise.

Gary W. Archer, a 60-year-old cardiologist who once ran Alaska's largest travel agency, was pronounced dead after other rafters and paramedics performed CPR for an hour, trooper Sgt. Brandon Anderson said. Archer was riding in a raft with four other people on a commercial raft trip when they hit rough waters. The raft slammed into a canyon wall and overturned, throwing everyone into the water, troopers said. Other rafters dragged Archer from the river. He was unconscious and not breathing, Anderson said.

Providence Alaska Medical Center sent a helicopter with paramedics aboard to the river. After an hour of trying to resuscitate him, paramedics pronounced Archer dead and flew his body to Anchorage. The medical examiner will perform an autopsy sometime this week to determine the cause of death. Archer had been white-water rafting with several family members, including a son, in Sixmile Creek, which runs parallel to the Hope cutoff road. He was in one of two rafts. Each raft carried four people, plus a river guide from Nova Riverunners Inc., said Jay Doyle, one of the company's owners. Doyle said the group launched at 10 a.m. near the cutoff for the 2 1/2 hour trip. Group members were dressed in dry suits, helmets and life vests. The accident happened about two hours later on a part of the river classified as class IV. A rating of I indicates smooth water. A rating of XI is the most dangerous.

Doyle said two portions of the river had class IV water. The two rafts made it through the first set of rapids without a hitch. On the second set of rapids, the lead raft went through and waited for Archer's raft, but a wave caught the second craft and turned it over, Doyle said. When Archer was pulled from the water unconscious, Doyle said he went to Hope and called 911.

Doyle was shaken during an interview late Saturday. He said that in 22 years of rafting, none of his clients has ever had an injury.

''We take our safety precautions very seriously,'' he said.

In addition to his work as a cardiologist, Archer ran what was once the state's largest travel agency. Under Archer, TravelCenter soared to the top of the Alaska travel industry through aggressive marketing of bargain-basement fares. By August 1985, the company claimed to write 32 percent of all airline tickets written in Alaska, and was touted in Inc. magazine as one of the nation's fastest growing companies.

But customers frequently complained to the state attorney general's office about the agency's inability to make timely refunds on unused tickets. In 1987, the company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

A helicopter evacuates a victim from the scene of a white-water raft accident Saturday in Sixmile Creek along the Hope Highway on the Kenai Peninsula.


Archer Recalled As Skilled, Caring Doctor

By Sheila Toomey, ADN 07/03/97

Hundreds of friends and former patients packed a meeting room at the Dimond Athletic Club on Wednesday to reminisce about Gary Archer, one of Alaska's best known and most controversial doctors.

Archer, a cardiologist and critical care specialist, died Saturday in a rafting accident near Hope. He was 60.

Preliminary autopsy results indicate Archer probably did not drown, nor was there sign of serious injury, said Dr. Michael Propst, the state medical examiner.

TX: Propst is waiting for test results expected next week to clarify the cause of death, but Archer's family said they suspect cardiac arrest. ''He didn't have any heart disease,'' said his brother, Michael Archer, ''but he was trapped under the boat for a while. The shock of the water, and that, may have done it.''

Archer's son and daughter-in-law, Lance and Ashley Archer, family friend Kim Wells and a guide were white-water rafting with the doctor on Sixmile Creek when they slammed into a canyon wall and capsized. The other passengers survived.

Archer came to Alaska in 1965, two years out of Johns Hopkins University and fresh from a medical residency in Seattle.

Raised in North Hollywood, Calif., son of an avid hunter, Archer was drawn north by the outdoor life, his brother said, and by the opportunity to make his mark as a doctor on the Last Frontier.

Many physicians find their profession a demanding, full-time occupation. Not Archer. If there was a mystery in his life, it was where he managed to find enough hours in his days to do everything he did.

Shortly after he arrived, and before making a name for himself as an innovative, if brash, young physician, Archer invested in a faltering travel agency owned by a friend. He became sole owner of TravelCenter in 1969 and, with his brother, turned it into the biggest agency in Alaska. During the 1980s boom, the agency specialized in high-volume, deeply discounted fares

and inundated the public with television commercials starring Archer, usually pitching from a sandy beach.

At one point, the company had more than 300 employees, but it ran into trouble with auditors in the late 1980s and ended up in bankruptcy and on the receiving end of a lawsuit or two.

Archer and his family also owned hunting and fishing lodges and at one time owned the Lands End Resort on Homer Spit. He was an accomplished pilot and ran a Bush air service. For fun in the 1970s, he sometimes flew a World War II-era Stinson L-1, perhaps the last such plane in the country still in private hands.

But the people at Wednesday's memorial service remembered Archer, the doctor. It was a real Alaska crowd -- carefully coifed matrons in navy blue, suntanned businessmen in their best plaid jackets, bearded thirtysomethings in workshirts and pony tails. Although there were occasional tears, the mood was one of fond remembrance rather than gloom. About 350 people, many standing when the chairs filled up, laughed at references to the doctor's steamroller personality, propensity for profanity, absolute devotion to his patients, and to a video of outtakes from old TravelCenter commercials.

A reservoir of gratitude was evident during the gathering as people talked to each other about how Archer had once saved their life after some other doctor had given up on them. He had a special genius for diagnosis, said Patty Ashlock, an owner of the Dimond Center and Archer family friend. He ordered a prostate test that no one else was using and ''probably saved my life,'' said her husband, Joe Ashlock.

''He played hard. He worked hard. He cared hard,'' said Mike Dorman, a friend who spoke at the memorial.

Archer was certainly not universally popular. He made his name as head of the critical care unit at the old Teamsters' hospital, where he introduced new technology and feuded bitterly with the old guard who ran the institution. Always a volatile personality, he was suspended in 1977. Hospital officials and some nurses accused him of boorish behavior and faulty record keeping. He sued and in 1980 a jury awarded him $650,000, calling the hospital action unjust. A judge reduced the award and the Alaska Supreme Court threw it out completely on a procedural question. During this period, according to Dorman, a typical day would find Archer up at 7 a.m., at his TravelCenter office by 8 a.m., in his medical office seeing patients from 9 to 10:30 a.m., flying visitors to one of his lodges from 11 to 12:30 p.m., back at the travel agency by 2 p.m., seeing patients from 2 to 4 p.m. and home by 6 p.m. where he watched the news on all three networks every night.

Although Archer devoted much of the 1980s to his other businesses, he continued seeing patients and returned to medicine full time after TravelCenter and the lodges were sold.

Unconventional, hard-driving, intense and always ahead of his time, Archer meshed with the freewheeling Alaska that once was. And it seemed fitting that he died as hard-charging as he lived.

''I think the way that Gary went was certainly the way he would have wanted to go,'' said friend Jim Hitchcock. Archer's brother agreed. But for the accident, Archer might have lived to be a very old man, but ''he would have made a miserable patient,'' Michael Archer said, ''so maybe it's better this way.''