Charles Allen Gutierrez 5/4/98 Beluga Point Windsurfer Drown

Windsurfer Critical After Inlet Accident
By Melissa Moore, ADN 5/3/98

An experienced windsurfer who friends describe as a free spirit remained in critical condition Saturday night after falling off his board in the waters near Beluga Point on Turnagain Arm.

Lifelong Alaskan Charles Allen Gutierrez, 40, started surfing about 9:45 a.m. Saturday just south of the Beluga Point turnout along the Seward Highway.  About an hour later, the wind died down and he fell into the water, said friends who were windsurfing with him.

He was about 75 yards out and was on his way back to shore when he went into the water.  A couple of minutes later, the wind picked up but Gutierrez didn't climb back onto his board.  That's when his friends knew he was in trouble, they said.

As they watched from shore, Gutierrez appeared to leave his board and it seemed he was trying to swim farther out to sea, said Dave Arnold, a friend who has surfed with Gutierrez for about eight years.

When Gutierrez stopped moving, his face was in the water, Arnold said.  So Arnold jumped in and swam toward his friend, pulling him back to shore.  By that time, Gutierrez had been face-down in the water for as long as 15 minutes, Arnold said.  The water was near 40 degrees, he said, and Gutierrez was wearing a full wetsuit.

Arnold and John Sadusky, another friend and fellow windsurfer, began cardiopulmonary resuscitation and worked for about 15 minutes to revive Gutierrez before police and paramedics arrived.

Gutierrez was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center and was placed in the intensive care unit where he was breathing with the help of a respirator, said Alaska State Trooper Michael Opalka.

Diagnosed with arterial ventricular mass, a rare disorder associated with swelling arteries in the brain, Gutierrez has suffered seizures in the past, Arnold said.  He learned he had the disorder a little more than two years ago, when he began having seizures.  He then underwent experimental surgery in San Francisco to slow the condition.  He seemed to be doing better, despite a minor setback last year when he blacked out once during a day of surfing, Sadusky said.

No one has been able to determine if Gutierrez had a seizure during Saturday's accident, Opalka said.

Friends characterize Gutierrez as a ''free spirit'' and an ''individualist.''  He has been an avid windsurfer for nearly a decade, and was known to take risks when he was on the water, sometimes windsurfing alone or going out too far, friends said.

''We were always getting upset with him, but what are you going to do?'' Arnold said.  ''He'd be back out here the next day doing the same thing.''  Windsurfing is more than just a sport to Gutierrez.  It's something he lived and breathed, Arnold said.

''He mentioned to me several times that if he was going to die, he wanted to die out here,''

he said.

When he wasn't on the water, Gutierrez, a certified public accountant, ran his company, Media Makers.  The firm specializes in multimedia and interactive programming. Gutierrez had recently programmed an interactive Inupiat children's CD-ROM story book that related to Native culture and Alaskan wildlife, Arnold said.

His sister, well-known defense attorney Carmen Gutierrez, was at the hospital Saturday along with their mother, Caroleen Waterfield, older brother David, other members of his family, his girlfriend and several friends.

Editors Note: Charles Gutierrez died 5/4/98.