Coast Guard helicopter rescues three stranded hunters near Cordova

Zaz Hollander

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter airlifted three hunters, including an Anchorage-based registered guide, after foul weather stranded them in the Wells Bay area near Cordova Wednesday.

Wells Bay is along Prince William Sound, about 60 miles northwest of Cordova.

The guide on the trip was 42-year-old Joe Romano, troopers said. With him were Eddie Curry of Pennsylvania and Keith Paulson of Anchorage.

Romano wasn't available for comment Thursday.

That's probably because he was headed back out to the bay in continued poor weather to retrieve the boat left behind during the rescue, Sgt. Marc Cloward said Thursday from the troopers post in Cordova.

Romano, with a client and a meat packer, took a boat over to the bay earlier in the week, Cloward said. The trio anchored the boat and took a Zodiak -- a small rigid, inflatable boat -- to shore. They spent at least a night out. The forecast called for heavy rain.

By the time they returned to the area where the Zodiak was tied up, rain had flooded the area, troopers said. Unable to return to the Zodiak, Romano called a friend in Cordova who contacted troopers at about 2:15 p.m. Wednesday.

The fairly desperate message relayed to troopers was that the group was wet, cold and hypothermic and couldn't make it through another night in their soaked gear, Cloward said.

Troopers couldn't reach the group without a jet boat so they petitioned the Coast Guard to send the helicopter, he said. Bad weather included seas up to eight feet.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter hoisted the hunters and flew them to Valdez for medical attention Wednesday evening, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

The helicopter crew reported rain, 40 mph winds and a 300-foot ceiling but two miles of visibility, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

The client, described as mildly hypothermic by medics, declined treatment besides some warm blankets, Cloward said.

On Thursday, Romano planned to hire a boat out of Valdez to recover the boat left behind, Cloward said. Weather conditions on the sound were still marginal Thursday.

A registered guide's "No. 1 priority" is the safety of their clients, the trooper said. "The registered guides, they really ought to have a Plan B in place. It really didn't sound like there was one in place here aside from calling the Coast Guard or the troopers."

In hindsight, he said, Romano made the right call if he wanted to ensure the safety of his client.

The Coast Guard stations the helicopter and crew at Cordova from May until the end of September because of increased summer boat traffic in the Gulf of Alaska, DeVuyst said. Other times of the year, rescues in that area originate out of more distant Kodiak or Sitka.

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.