Alaska News

Tour company faced criticism over safety prior to fatal canoe accident in Southeast Alaska

HAINES — The company that owned the canoe that recently capsized in a swift moving river in Southeast Alaska, killing one man, has been identified.

Prior to the Monday death, the Skagway-based Alaska Excursions faced public scrutiny earlier this year after former employees claimed the company has unsafe tour practices and poor maintenance habits, the Chilkat Valley News reported.

Nevada pastor Steven Todd Willis was in Alaska celebrating his wedding anniversary when he died after the canoe rolled in the Davidson Glacier River.

The river's water level on the day of the incident appeared to be higher than normal, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch.

"It appeared the engine didn't start immediately when they got into the rapid water and were overcome by the current," troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain said. "(The canoe) overturned in high water not long after it was launched from the head of the river."

All of the passengers who fell into the water, including Willis, were wearing life jackets.

Alaska Excursions owner Robert Murphy issued a statement this week offering condolences to everyone involved in the incident.


Willis' death comes months after 10 former employees of the tour company publicly criticized it when it applied for a new commercial ATV tour permit with the Haines Borough.

Former manager Sam Edwards and other guides wrote to the borough assembly in March, informing it of the company's negligence in maintaining skiffs used to transport guides to and from Glacier Point.

"The maintenance on the skiffs, busses, ATVs, and canoe motors was extremely spotty and it was often very hard to get a mechanic to come out, even when we were on the verge of not being able to run the trip," Edwards wrote.

Other guides claimed they were pressured make trips during unsafe weather.

Murphy and other employees disputed the group's claims.