UPDATE: The U.S. Coast Guard suspended the active search for the third of three boaters from a sunken 24-foot recreational vessel near Baranof Island, Saturday night.
Suspending a case is one of the hardest decisions that we as search and rescuers have to make and our thoughts and prayers are with the families, said Scott Giard, a command duty officer with Coast Guard Sector Juneau, in a prepared statement. We appreciate the support of our partner agencies and good Samaritans to put as many resources on scene as possible and maximize our chances of locating these boaters.
Original story below
A Washington man appears to be the sole survivor of a boat sinking on Thursday in southeast Alaska, after the U.S. Coast Guard recovered the body of one his friends on Saturday and was still searching for a third man.
The surviving man, Dennis Monroe, 46, of Montesano, Wash., was on a fishing trip Thursday evening with Fred Swenson, also of Montesano, and John Reid of Sitka, when the borrowed 24-foot aluminum boat they were using filled with water and sank 200 yards off Baranof Island south of Sitka, according to Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.
Both Swenson and Monroe managed to swim to a rock halfway to shore, where they could see Reid struggling in the water before being swept out of sight, Ipsen said.
Then, as the rising tide forced the two remaining men from the rock, only Monroe was able to make it the 100 yards to shore.
"When he turned around, he saw Fred," Ipsen said. "And then it's dark, and he didn't see him any more."
Reid's body was found on Saturday by a fishing boat aiding the rescue , and was then picked up by a Coast Guard helicopter, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.
Swenson had not been found as of Saturday evening.
Reached in his room at the Super 8 Sitka, Monroe said he was not ready to discuss the incident.
"We're flying out tomorrow, and I really don't want to talk about it while I'm here," Monroe said. "It's pretty messed up right now."
He and Swenson had flown to Alaska Thursday morning, along with a third man from Washington, Tim Decker. The men were friends from their days at Montesano High School, said Ken Decker, Tim's father.
In Sitka, they met Reid, 44, another classmate who had moved to the town 15 years ago and worked as a commercial fisherman.
"They go way back a long ways," Ken Decker said in a phone interview. "(Reid) lives there in Sitka. The others go up occasionally to visit and fish, and just do recreational things."
Sitka is halfway up the west coast of Baranof Island, which is about 100 miles long and 25 miles wide in the middle of the Alaska panhandle.
The men had been planning a three-day fishing and camping trip on the island's southern tip, some 60 miles away, according to Ken Decker.
They set out from Sitka in two separate boats -- Monroe, Swenson, and Reid in the borrowed 24-foot aluminum craft; Tim Decker in Reid's skiff with a local man -- with plans to rendezvous 15 miles away from town.
But somehow, the meetup didn't happen, and Monroe's boat pressed on. After overshooting their destination, they turned around and realized they were facing "considerable waves" and winds of nearly 25 mph, said Ipsen, the Troopers spokeswoman.
Reid, who was driving, "gunned it for the shore," she said, but the boat ended up swamping and sinking. The men were able to briefly climb into a raft they'd brought with them, but the rough waters tossed them out and separated them, according to Ipsen.
After making it back to land, Monroe spent a cold night clad only in a tank top, jeans, and his life jacket, Ipsen said. The next day, he found a reflective fishing lure and used it to signal for help; he was ultimately picked up by a fishing boat, the Otter, and driven back to Sitka.
The Otter's owner, James Lange, declined to comment on Saturday.
Kathleen Swenson, Fred's wife, said in a brief interview Saturday that she was planning to stay in Washington with her two sons and wait for more news of her missing husband.
"We've got a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old, little boys. I've got to be (at home)," she said. "I'm not sure what they were doing -- I don't know what their plan was."
Her husband had been wearing a lifejacket, according to the Coast Guard, and a spokeswoman said that the search was continuing Saturday night.
But still, it was clear that the odds of survival were slim, given that water temperatures in the area were in the low-to-mid 50s -- and Ken Decker said he was concerned for the families.
"It's a very slim chance by now. I hope and pray that I'm wrong," he said. "But it's gotta be hell for 'em."
Reach Nathaniel Herz at email@example.com or 257-4311.