Authorities say a 20-year-old Illinois man died Sunday evening after rescuers were unable to free him from the Turnagain Arm mud flats near Hope and he drowned as the tide rose.
Zachary Porter was walking with a group of friends when he became stuck just before 6 p.m., troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel said in an email. One of his friends called 911 immediately after Porter became stuck, McDaniel said. He was between 50 to 100 feet from shore, said Girdwood Fire Chief Michelle Weston.
Porter was already waist deep in the mud when the first rescue crews arrived, McDaniel said. Four units from the Girdwood Fire Department responded to Mile 11.5 along with two air ambulances to assist Hope Sunrise Fire Department crews, according to Weston.
Porter’s friends tried to free him from the mud, as did crews when they arrived, but despite their efforts the incoming tide submerged him just before 6:45 p.m., troopers said.
Girdwood rescue crews made it to the scene after Porter was already underwater, Weston wrote. The fire department is located roughly 47 miles from the area where Porter became stuck and Weston said it can take up to an hour to drive there.
Another person with Porter, who did not require extrication from the mud, was medevaced to a hospital, according to Weston.
Porter’s body was recovered around 6 a.m. Monday, troopers said.
It has been more than 30 years since someone died after becoming stuck in the mud flats. In 1988, 18-year-old Adeana Dickison became stuck in the mud near Ingram Creek and died.
Weston described the shoreline and tides around Anchorage as unforgiving: mud-like quicksand can trap people along the shores of Cook Inlet or Turnagain and Knik arms. The mud can be unpredictable and safe spots for standing can change. Tides can also come in rapidly. A man died in 2013 when Cook Inlet tides quickly rose as he walked back to Kincaid Park in Anchorage from Fire Island.
The Girdwood Fire Department generally responds to two or three mud rescues each year, Weston said. They use a specialized tool that blasts high pressure water or air into the mud to break it up so rescuers can free the trapped person. Mud rescues require a significant amount of manpower, she said, because there needs to be enough people to rescue any crew members who may sink into the mud while trying to free the trapped person.
Earlier this month, rescuers saved a hooligan fisherman after he sank up to his waist in mud near the mouth of Twentymile River.
It’s essential to call 911 early, Weston said. Time is crucial when the tide is rising and it can take rescuers a considerable amount of time to drive to locations along the Turnagain Arm. The last three mud flat calls the fire department has received involved people already buried up to their chests, which doesn’t afford rescuers a lot of time, she said.
The effort to extract Porter before the tide rose was eerily reminiscent of that ill-fated rescue call in the late 1980s, Weston said.
”When I started on the department I was with people who had been on that other tragic mud rescue 30-plus years ago, so this just hit home with all the stories they’ve always told us of how it felt holding that person,” she said. “It’s just so tragic.”