Idaho man dies in logging accident in Southeast Alaska

Devin Kelly

A 51-year-old Idaho man working on a logging operation in Southeast Alaska died Thursday after being crushed by a falling treetop, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Troopers received a report of the incident about 4:46 p.m. from a commercial logging camp on Mitkof Island, near mile 26 of the Metcalf Highway south of Petersburg. The victim, Mark Debates, was working for Oregon-based Columbia Helicopters Inc. as a hook setter, a job that requires hooking cables to a helicopter carrying lumber out of the area, said Beth Ipsen, troopers spokeswoman.

The accident was witnessed by Debates' on-site partner, Ipsen said.

"He heard the tree crack," Ipsen said. "It came down and landed on his partner."

It's not clear how far the treetop fell, but Ipsen said it was about 20 feet long and about 25 inches in diameter.

When the incident occurred, the helicopter was in the process of flying away with the logs, Ipsen said. She said there was no indication that the helicopter hit the tree, but it's possible that rotor wash generated by the aircraft toppled the treetop.

Once the treetop fell, Debates' partner made a call up to the helicopter, which circled back to lift the treetop off the injured man, Ipsen said. Debates was then taken to a hospital in Petersburg, where he succumbed to his injuries, Ipsen said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was in Petersburg Friday investigating, Ipsen said.

Reach Devin Kelly at or 257-4314.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information from Alaska State Troopers about the name and home state of the victim. Mark Debates is an Idaho resident.