AD Main Menu

Four fishermen rescued off precarious perch on Kasilof River bridge

Zaz Hollander
Rescuers from Central Emergency Services prepare to load four men trapped on the Kasilof River bridge into a boat Monday morning. Their small drift boat flipped and sank after the men put in nearby and the strong river currents pinned them against the bridge. Brad Nelson / Central Emergency Services

Kenai Peninsula Borough rescuers snagged four men out of the frigid, rain-swollen waters of the Kasilof River on Monday after their small boat flipped and started sinking, leaving them clinging to a nearby bridge.

The men, all from out of state, set out around 7 a.m. Monday in a drift boat for a fishing trip, authorities say. Guide Justin Derks and the three others put in just below a busy boat launch, according Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters.

Rescuers say they were immediately swept into the fast-moving water swollen by recent rainfall and pinned against a pillar of the bridge, located at about mile 109 of the Sterling Highway.

“The river is much higher and stronger than usual,” Central Emergency Services spokesperson Brad Nelson said Wednesday. “It sucked them in.”

The boat got hung up on an ice-breaking metal pole designed protect the bridge in winter but, for some reason, was raised to a 90-degree angle when the accident happened, Peters wrote in an email. A piece of the pole caught the front of the boat and swung it around, and the craft immediately started sinking.

Two of the men scrambled out of the water and hung on to the pole, Nelson said. Two didn’t have the energy and leaned on the mostly submerged boat, pressed against the pillar by the current.

“That was a big worry,” he said.

The men all wore personal flotation devices, Nelson said, but all were chilled and getting exhausted.

The department’s small high-angle rescue team dropped ropes to the four from the bridge and tied them in for safety, he said. A motorized boat maneuvered into place and rescuers got all four men inside. They were cold and tired but otherwise OK, Nelson said.

Peters said state transportation officials had been notified about the condition of the pole.

The river swept away the empty boat, Peters said. A homeowner later in the day called about a boat that washed up on their property but it wasn't immediately clear if it was the same boat.

Troopers identified the three passengers as John Hinds, Timothy Scherg and Richard Shaack.

Nelson said at least some of the men were from Ohio and Michigan.

“One guy said he came up here for a couple weeks of rest and relaxation and had more excitement than he’d seen in 50 years,” he said.

Contact Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com.