Alaska News

2 dead, 4 rescued after small boat capsizes in Glacier Bay

Two people died and four more were rescued from the waters of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast, after a privately owned fishing vessel carrying six people capsized Monday evening.

Park spokesperson Tom VandenBerg said Alaska State Troopers were notifying the families of the deceased Tuesday. According to VandenBerg, the Invader, a small aluminum fishing vessel, abruptly capsized in Glacier Bay between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday.

"There was no mayday call or anything," VandenBerg said. "It happened pretty quickly, and then they were in the water and nobody saw them."

Jim Kearns, operator of the local charter Fairweather Adventures, helped rescue three of the boaters. The survivors told him they'd been fishing. One of the boaters was investigating a slow leak in the boat when everyone moved to one side to catch a glimpse of a freshly caught fish, Kearns said. He was told that's when the boat capsized; no one onboard could reach a radio in time.

A statement from VandenBerg said word of the sinking near Strawberry Island, about 10 miles from Bartlett Cove and park headquarters, came in from other crews in the area after one of the survivors made it to shore.

"A passing vessel noticed an individual on the shore of Strawberry Island with a flare," VandenBerg said. "As soon as that call came through, there were a number of vessels that responded within 10 minutes and started picking people out of the water."

The crews that arrived at the scene — made up of National Park Service vessels, as well as other charter and tour vessels, rescued all four survivors.


"Three were essentially fine with mild hypothermia; one was (taken by medevac) to Juneau," VandenBerg said.

A passing vessel alerted Kearns about the survivor on the shore of Strawberry Island. Kearns turned around, located the man and got him off the beach. The survivor relayed where the boat had capsized, which Kearns described as a short distance from the shore.

When Kearns arrived he spotted a man standing waist deep in the bay's waters – he'd been standing on top of the overturned boat. Nearby, two other bodies were caught in thick kelp, but Kerns couldn't get close enough to help, he said.

Two victims were recovered by the tour vessel Wilderness Discoverer. The boat was returning from Glacier Bay after a routine, daylong trip in the area when it heard a distress signal from responding agencies, said president and COO of Un-Cruise Adventures Tim Jacox.

Employees onboard the Wilderness Discoverer launched two skiffs and pulled the victims out of the water. The employees, who are trained to perform life-saving measures, and a Park Service staff member tried to resuscitate the two recovered boaters but were unsuccessful.

Jacox said the company's vessels respond to a number of distress signals in Alaska and elsewhere yearly, but most incidents aren't as serious or tragic.

Kearns returned to the beach as another survivor was spotted. He pushed a kayak toward the beach and the man swam a short distance, hopped on and made his way to the charter.

None of the boaters knew what had happened to each other, Kearns said, as they quickly plunged into the frigid waters. All the men were aware and able to talk but "pretty darn cold," he said.

"Cold water is a dangerous thing," Kearns said. "I don't think anyone was wearing lifejackets. I saw a couple float cushions floating in the water but that's it."

The remaining survivor was first taken to Gustavus aboard a Park Service research vessel, then transferred to a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and flown to Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau.

VandenBerg said crews were waiting for low tide Tuesday afternoon to return and find the Invader, which is believed to have sunk in about 100 feet of water. He said Monday's incident is the first fatal boat accident he can remember in Glacier Bay during his 10 years of service in the park.

"Usually, boats are pretty safe here," VandenBerg said. "It's pretty calm waters, but it's cold waters."

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.

Jerzy Shedlock

Jerzy Shedlock is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.