Alaska News

Man dies after canoe on commercial tour overturns in Southeast Alaska

One person died after a canoe overturned during a tour-operated excursion in Southeast Alaska, officials said Monday evening.

Around 10:30 a.m., Alaska State Troopers in Ketchikan got a report that a canoe had overturned after going into rapids in a river fed by Davidson Glacier. The river was reported to be higher than usual, troopers said.

Troopers, the U.S. Coast Guard, Haines police and fire department personnel responded to the scene.

Steven Todd Willis, 50, of Las Vegas, was found unconscious in the water.

A small boat with the canoe excursion company was on scene but unable to reach Willis due to shallow water depth, the Coast Guard said.

A MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew from Coast Guard Air Station Sitka was able to retrieve Willis from the water and bring him to shore.

An emergency medical technician provided CPR and basic medical care, said Petty officer Jon-Paul Rios with Coast Guard public affairs. Willis was still unresponsive when transferred to a Juneau hospital, he said.


Willis was pronounced dead just before 1 p.m., troopers said. He and all other passengers were wearing life jackets.

The remaining passengers and boat operator — reported as nine people by the troopers, and 10 by the Coast Guard — made it to shore and reported no injuries. They were taken to a staging area, where they took a small boat to Pyramid Harbor, about 4 miles from Haines, officials said.

Willis' remains were released to the next of kin, who had also been in the canoe at the time, troopers said.

According to the Coast Guard, weather at the time included 7 mph winds, 2-foot seas and 11 miles of visibility. The air temperature was 66 degrees, and water temperature was 57 degrees.

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.