Local News

Another troller grounds in Sitka Sound, skipper charged

The troller Yankee aground on Error Island. (Sitka SAR Photo/Don Kluting)

A Sitka fisherman is facing charges of reckless endangerment after running his boat aground in Sitka’s Eastern Channel Wednesday evening (6-6-12).

52-year-old William A. Walder was arrested by Troopers at the scene after refusing to comply with rescue personnel to leave his troller “Yankee,” as the boat listed on the rocks near Error Island. He was also charged with boating under the influence.

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Walder also apparently failed to radio the Coast Guard. A female passenger aboard the Yankee notified a friend via text message that the boat was in trouble. The friend called Coast Guard district command in Juneau, who were mistakenly informed that the distressed vessel was near ANB Harbor, in Sitka’s inner channel.

Harbor personnel, and Sitka Search and Rescue captain Don Kluting, went to ANB to look for the Yankee, but found nothing.

“It was at that point that we realized we had an actual search and rescue mission.”

Kluting says it took a while to narrow down the Yankee’s location. In cell phone conversations with the female passenger she described a sailboat passing by, and a house on an island – fairly common circumstances in the Sound.

In the end, Kluting says rescuers relied on technology.

“Her cell phone was starting to die, she had one bar left on the battery life. Per Coast Guard sector recommendations, she called 9-1-1 and we used the E-9-1-1 system to determine her GPS coordinates and plot them. She was on the east side of Error Island, just right out here in Eastern Channel.”

The aptly-named Island is about a 10-minute boat ride from the harbor in calm conditions. Kluting and a SAR team – including a state trooper — responded in his own skiff; harbor personnel took their boat.

Kluting says the Yankee’s situation was precarious.

“Arriving on scene, we found and interesting situation. The vessel was hard aground, about mid-ship. Bow down, stern up, and the stern was significantly out of the water. We were concerned about the stability, and any weight shifting on the vessel. It was in jeopardy of rolling on to the port side. Certainly a situation where their life safety was at risk. They needed to be rescued from the vessel.”

Search and Rescue took the female on board, but, according to police dispatch reports, Walder refused to comply. Once the woman was safely delivered to town, Kluting and the trooper returned to the Yankee, where Walder was arrested. Sitka police later visited the boat and documented the scene. Details of his arraignment were unavailable by deadline for this story.

Kluting says Search and Rescue’s maritime role has increased over the past two-and-a-half decades. Almost exactly a month ago, Kluting responded to the troller “Igloo,” which had run aground on rocks off the end of Sitka’s runway.

Kluting says SAR trains for its maritime roll, and just as the Coast Guard supports his team on land, he’s happy to help the Coast Guard on the water when he can.

“In a case like last night, it’s a quick run for us to get on scene and be able to stabilize the situation, and assist the Coast Guard. So it’s a win-win situation.”

A Coast Guard marine safety officer inspected the scene Wednesday evening. The wooden hull appeared mostly undamaged. The boat was expected to be refloated on the next tide.

Rachel Waldholz contributed to this story.

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