Five people survived an ocean dunking after their boat capsized near China Poot Bay and Gull Island on Tuesday afternoon. Except for being cold and wet, and sore from getting out of the water, no one had major injuries.
Crews in three Good Samaritan vessels rescued three women and two men from Kachemak Bay east of the Homer Spit that afternoon.
Four of the people walked to waiting ambulances from the rescue boats at the Homer Harbor load and launch ramp, with one person carried in a stretcher. Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mark Kirko said there were minor injuries.
“Everybody was cold and wet,” he said.
Dispatchers put out a page at about 4:45 p.m. for the accident. Two HVFD ambulance crews and one each from Kachemak Emergency Services and Anchor Point Emergency Services responded.
All the people involved were treated at the scene, with at least four taken to South Peninsula Hospital. Kirko said one man declined transport.
Scott Burbank of the Seabird was the first boat to respond. The owner of St. Augustine’s Kayak Tours with his wife Susan Aramovich, they had been taking 11 tourists to the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies yurt at Peterson Bay. He said he saw what at first appeared to be kayakers in the distance, but something didn’t look right.
“I decided to take a closer look. I couldn’t tell what was going on,” Burbank said. “I kept getting closer and closer until I noticed there were five people on a small skiff.”
Burbank said he saw coolers and fish in the water. A passenger on board called 911 and Aramovich called the Coast Guard on a marine radio.
“They went into some very big tide rips,” Burbank said. “Even though it wasn’t a rough day today — that’s the thing about the Moose Point area … from there it was pretty fierce.”
Karl Stoltzfus of the Bay Excursions water taxi on the Torega said he heard a U.S. Coast Guard radio call of five people in the water. He heard Susan Aramovich on the Seabird say on the radio they were near the mouth of China Poot Bay between China Poot and Gull Island. Stoltzfus went to the scene to help out after the Grotta Nove, a private boat, picked up one person.
The five people either treaded water in the ocean or clung to the keel of the overturned boat, Burbank said. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data buoy measurements, the water temperature at the nearest station in Seldovia was about 52 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday.
“We started hauling them in with a life sling,” Burbank said.
The Seabird hauled in two people back to shore.
One woman was weak and couldn’t swim, and had difficulty getting into a sling. Burbank deployed a man overboard net that he had made for pulling people weighed down by wet clothing and boots. He made the device at the request of U.S. Coast Guard marine safety inspectors. A net suspended under buoys, they slipped it under the woman, and they were able to get her on board.
“We could kind of roll her into it,” Burbank said. “It’s like a blanket, only a net. … If I hadn’t had that, she would not have been rescued. I’m really thankful that worked. There were some very bad moments. There was a long period we weren’t confident we were able to get her out of the water.”
Another person in chest waders full of water also had trouble getting on board, Burbank said. They were able to get him up step-by-step on a ladder.
Stoltzfus said one woman in the water was waterlogged and hard to get on board.
“We took her around the back of the boat,” he said. “I’ve done that before. I know that works.”
Another man got himself into Stoltzfus’ boat.
“He must have stood up on the overturned skiff and grabbed the railing of the overturned boat and pulled himself up on the bow,” Stoltzfus said. “He was pretty motivated I think to get out of the water.”
Both people Stoltzfus picked up were shivering and a bit sore from getting out of the water, but otherwise OK, he said. Stoltzfus’ deckhand, Douglas Dean, helped with the rescue, as did some passengers on the Torega.
“There were a couple of big strong guys that helped out,” Stoltzfus said. “We were grateful for that.”
Burbank also credited his passengers with helping in the rescue. He said they either helped out or got out of the way. One boy working on his Eagle Scout badge was particularly helpful, he said. It takes two people to run the man-overboard net, and the boy figured out how to help.
“He deserves an honorary Eagle award right now,” Burbank said. “I can’t say enough about that kind how much help he was.”
The Alaska State Trooper P/V Augustine also was on scene.
Burbank said the tide rips ran strong in the area, making rescue difficult. While seas were about 2 feet, with a south-southwest wind of 5 to 10 knots in Kachemak Bay, Stoltzfus said at the China Poot entrance seas were about 4 feet
Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins emphasized the importance of having survival gear on hand.
“It doesn’t matter what you have in the boat,” he said. “If you go in the water, it’s what you have on your body.”
“It was a real happy ending for something that was close to being tragic,” Burbank said.