Anchorage

Man rescued after sinking waist-deep in Turnagain Arm mud flats near Girdwood

Mud Rescue

Firefighters on Thursday rescued a man stuck up to his waist in the mud of Turnagain Arm near Girdwood.

The man, a surveyor, was working on the mud flats around Mile 90 near Tidewater Slough when he became stuck, said Michelle Weston, chief of Girdwood Fire and Rescue. He was not injured.

The surveyor was doing work for the state’s Seward Highway and Alyeska Highway intersection project, but was not a Department of Transportation employee, spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said. The mud flats are notoriously unpredictable and have occasionally claimed the lives of people who ventured too far out, became stuck, and drowned as the tide rose around them.

The man called his employer, who then called the fire station before being directed to call 911 around 9:50 a.m., Weston said. Rescuers were delayed after initial reports incorrectly described his location, Weston said. She recommended anyone experiencing an emergency contact 911 directly whenever possible.

When first responders arrived, the mud had reached the man’s waist, Weston said. Another three inches of frigid water floated on top of the mud.

He was down an embankment and roughly 100 feet out in an area with a small current of water, she said. Firefighters placed a backboard in the area for a rescue technician to stand on and then used a nozzle to try to break up the surface tension on the mud to free the man.

“He was very well sort of augured in there,” Weston said.

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Roughly 40 minutes later, the man was freed from the mud, unhurt and in good spirits, Weston said.

“In a different situation, it could have gone really badly,” she said. “He was by himself, and not all the places along the Turnagain Arm have cell coverage.”

The Seward Highway closed in both directions while firefighters worked to extricate the man, but the highway reopened by 11:30 a.m. The rescue was led by Lt. Anna Ferntheil with firefighter and EMT Stuart Parry working as the rescue technician, the department wrote on Facebook.

Girdwood firefighters generally respond to two or three mud flat rescues each year, but they almost always occur in the summer, when people are fishing for hooligan, hunting or just walking in the area, Weston said.

The mud flats are dangerous because people can easily sink into the thick glacial silt and become stuck.

Weston urged anyone working or recreating there to use caution: Go out in groups of two, and have a backup communication device like an InReach, because cell phone service can be unreliable, and know when the tide is coming in.

She urged anyone who does get stuck to call for help early.

“It’s better to call us when it’s below your knee — we don’t mind coming,” Weston said. “And then you can always say, ‘I self-rescued and I’m OK,’ versus waiting.”

[The true history of Cook Inlet’s deadly mudflats]

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the rescue took an hour. It took 40 minutes.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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