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Troopers use helicopter to pluck two boaters from river in northeast Alaska

Nathaniel Herz

The Alaska State Troopers used a helicopter to pluck two boaters from a rain-swollen river in northeast Alaska late Wednesday, the troopers said in a prepared statement.

The troopers said they picked up Erwine Alvisser, 44, and Barbara Walcer, 45, from a sandbar at the confluence of the Sheenjek and Koness rivers, after the pair asked to be rescued "because the water was dangerously high and swift," the statement said.

Two bears had also "ransacked" the boaters' gear, the troopers' statement said, though Alvisser and Walcer were unharmed.

The statement did not say how the boaters requested their rescue, or identify how they got to the river or the type of vessel they were using. A spokeswoman for the troopers did not respond to questions about the rescue.

The Sheenjek River travels more than 200 miles south from its headwaters to Fort Yukon, where it flows into the Porcupine River. The Sheenjek's confluence with the Koness River is a little more than halfway.

The Sheenjek is a popular trip for recreational boaters during the summer, said Danielle Tirell, a co-owner of Coldfoot-based Coyote Air, which sometimes flies people into the Sheenjek.

Tirell said some 95 percent of people access the river from the air.

After ample rainfall over the last few weeks, water levels in the area are "very high," she added, which has made many local rivers "pretty nasty," with some clogged with treacherous submerged trees known to boaters as "strainers."

"It's been a pretty unusual year," Tirell said. "I can't think of another June that's been quite this wet."

After their rescue, the boaters stopped at another flight service, Fairbanks-based Wright Air Service, to cancel their flight out from Fort Yukon, according to an employee at Wright Air Service who would only identify herself as Kathleen.

She said the boaters were European, and that they had requested the rescue "just because the water was so high, it made it too dangerous."

"It was beyond their expertise," she said. "They were glad to be back."

Planes can normally land on a gravel strip or gravel bar near the Sheenjek's confluence with the Koness.

But the high water levels have prevented Wright Air Service from accessing its typical landing areas, she said.


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com