The body of a man was swept up in an incoming tide on the Cook Inlet mud flats Sunday was recovered early Monday morning, the Alaska State Troopers said.
His family identified him as Capt. Joseph Hugh Eros, 42, of Anchorage, a Harvard graduate and JAG attorney for the U.S. Army who was due to deploy to a new post in South Korea in July.
Eros and a friend were returning to Kincaid Park from a walk to Fire Island when the tide -- one of the more extreme of the year -- swiftly came in Sunday afternoon, according to the Anchorage Fire Department. The friend, who had not been identified early Monday evening, made it back to shore but Eros was seen going under the water, which is about 40 degrees this time of year, said fire department battalion chief Tim Garbe.
An initial call to rescuers came in around 4:30 p.m., he said.
Searchers from agencies, including the fire department, helicopters from the Alaska Air National Guard's 11th Rescue Coordination Center and LifeMed Alaska, canvassed the waters and shorelines of the area. .
The search turned into a body recovery operation after a few hours, Garbe said.
"Without a survival suit, if a person is known to have been in the water it's not considered survivable (after hours have passed)," he said.
It was the crew of an 11th Rescue Coordination Center helicopter that spotted Eros' body near shoreline at the "mouth of Turnagain Arm" around 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning, said public affairs specialist Alicia Halla.
The Cook Inlet mud flats are a treacherous but irresistible lure to some people, Garbe said.
"It's tempting. It looks like it's just a short walk to Fire Island but the conditions can change so quickly," he said.
At its peak, the tide was rising at a rate 6 inches per minute Sunday, he said.
The city, which manages Kincaid Park, where the men set out from, tries to educate people about the risks of the tidal flats but can't do anything to prevent them from walking on them, said parks superintendent Holly Spoth-Torres.
Every summer, people make the crossing despite warnings not to, said Garbe. And virtually every summer, some are rescued from the mud.
The walk can be done safely, said Doug Van Etten, a former leader of the Anchorage Adventurers Meetup group which, for several summers, organized group crossings of the mud flats, attracting up to 25 people.
Van Etten, who now lives in Grand Junction, Colo., said he's done the trip a total of five times without incident.
A safe crossing requires a nuanced, precise understanding of the tides, which few people have, said Van Etten.
The attraction of doing the walk despite its dangers is the same reason people take risks to climb mountains, said Van Etten: It offers a vantage point that not everybody gets to see.
"You look right down Turnagain Arm," he said. "You get the whole view with the mountains framing it, you basically look all the way to Portage."
Mike Eros says he wishes his brother had stayed away.
Joseph Hugh Eros was born in Kansas and grew up in a small town in West Virginia, said his brother in a phone interview and e-mail Monday from his home in Texas.
Eros graduated from Harvard in 1993 and then biked across the country, rock climbed, taught English in South Korea and was inspired to enlisted in the military after seeing the fall of the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, his brother said. He was working in the tech industry at the time, his brother said.
"Within weeks of Sept. 11 he had joined the U.S. Army, feeling called to respond as best as he could," Eros said in an e-mail Monday.
Eros served in Iraq and witnessed the fall of Baghdad, his brother wrote. He later attended law school at the University of Michigan and returned to the Army as a JAG, or Judge Advocate General attorney.
Eros, according to his brother, was a private, loyal, funny man who was known as a leader: quietly stepping up to cook family dinners during his sister's illness and mentoring younger soldiers while he was in the military.
He was not married and had no children.
Eros was also an experienced outdoorsman who hiked, whitewater kayaked, rock climbed and told family he loved Anchorage because of its proximity to trails and wildlife.
The two brothers had taken an extensive hiking trip through Montana after their sister died in 2001 at age 28, Eros wrote.
Eros was scheduled to visit his brother in Alaska later this week before his move to South Korea. The two had planned to go hiking, take the ferry through Southeast Alaska and meet up with their parents in Bellingham, Wash.
"I actually asked him if we could go to Fire Island and he said no, it would be too dangerous even though the 'super-moon' low tides had recently happened," he wrote. "I was actually disappointed, but of course did not question his decision. I am immensely sad he ended up going this week. I can hear him cautioning me not go do something so stupid myself. I will always hear his voice guiding me towards better decisions, especially in the outdoors."
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Alaska Dispatch Publishing