Man presumed dead after trying to retrieve canoe in Portage Lake

casey.grove@adn.comOctober 9, 2012 

A Sterling man is presumed dead after swimming into frigid Portage Lake on Monday to grab a canoe that drifted away from shore, an Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman says.

It was early afternoon Monday when brothers Larry Dobson, 50, and Dave Dobson, 51, set out in the canoe from the lake's northwest side, said troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen. The two paddled their way to the southern edge near Portage Glacier and hiked in a rocky area before returning to find the canoe out in the lake, Ipsen said.

Chunks of blue ice can often be seen floating in the lake. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the water is 34 to 36 degrees year-round and has an average depth of 600 feet.

Because of steep cliffs surrounding them, the canoe appeared to be the brothers' only way out, Ipsen said.

"(Larry) jumped in to retrieve it, started struggling and slipped under the water's surface," she said. "He was not seen again."

Dave waded in and tried to reach his brother but realized he, too, would succumb to the cold, Ipsen said. Dave spent the night at the edge of the lake without shelter, she said.

"They were just planning on staying there for the afternoon, so he didn't have much with him. It was a very cold night for him," Ipsen said.

By Tuesday morning, the canoe had apparently drifted back, and Dave got in and paddled back to the side from which they'd come the day before, Ipsen said. He arrived just as a concerned family member drove up, and they called 911 about 10:30 a.m., the troopers spokeswoman said.

Suffering from hypothermia, Dave Dobson was taken to an Anchorage hospital for treatment, Ipsen said.

A three-man team in a jet boat -- comprised of a Girdwood-based trooper, a Whittier police officer and a U.S. Forest Service officer -- were searching for Larry Dobson's body Tuesday and had not found him as of 5 p.m., Ipsen said.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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