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A look back at 2012: Two (young) men and a baby, and a flying dog

Nanuck, the dog, takes a flying leap into Heart Lake on a warm September afternoon. Cindy Edwards sent us this picture (one of our favorites of the year) for the CorvidEYE.

The fate of the lone survivor of a Coast Guard helicopter crash, an improbable legislative win by a not-quite-graduated college student, and a visit from a remarkable 18-year old who began her life abandoned in a harbor restroom were among the top stories in Sitka in 2012.

Listen to iFriendly audio.

Lt. Lance Leone, in Sitka

Lt. Lance Leone survived the crash of a Coast Guard helicopter two years ago. The loss of his three crewmates was tragic; now the young co-pilot seems likely to lose his wings. A hearing in March cleared Leone of criminal charges, but Alaska’s top commander subsequently filed a reprimand that may block Leone’s advancement, and ground him permanently.

Read an article about Leone in the Washington Times.

Leone told the full story of the crash to KCAW in an exclusive interview in November.

“Normally when we do it (practice underwater egress), it’s a slow flip in a chair. This was an unbelievably fast hitting the water. I can’t quote on how many G’s, but there was a lot of impact. Having been flying through the air at 125 knots, and hitting the wires at approximately 115 feet — at that point, we were a projectile.”

Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (left) and Haines Republican Rep. Bill Thomas (right).

Sitkan Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins won an upset victory over four-term incumbent Bill Thomas of Haines, to take a seat in the state legislature. Twenty-three year old Kreiss-Tomkins, who has yet to complete his final thesis for Yale University, jumped into the summertime Democratic primary without an opponent, and polled surprisingly well. After hard campaigning, and a close general election that came down to absentees and a recount, Kreiss-Tomkins eked out a win, and Thomas cried foul. He held the media at bay briefly, about whether he’d ask for a recount.

“I’m not going to say, because I want the suspense to lay there. The guy was such an a—hole. You know he lied on so many things. You’re supposed to run a clean campaign and he didn’t. So I’m just going to wait.”

Thomas later toned down his on-the-record remarks about his opponent. Kreiss-Tomkins never responded in kind; he did admit that the whole thing at times was surreal.

“It’s like I’ve just been hired for a job by 17,000 people, and it’s like the acceptance letter has been strung out one sentence at a time.”

Sitka’s senator Bert Stedman handily defeated fellow incumbent Albert Kookesh of Angoon in the same election, but lost the Finance chair when Republican colleagues ousted him for his participation in the now-extinct bi-partisan coalition. That may be bad news for electric rate-payers in Sitka: Local officials were counting on state support to complete the $100-million Blue Lake dam project. City officials broke ground just before Christmas with over $40-million in funding still unaccounted for.

Sitkans have new appreciation for the humble blue fish tote, after 19-year-old Ryan Harris spent over 24 hours adrift off Kruzof Island in one, following the sinking of the Kaitlin Rae in September. His skipper, Stonie “Mac” Huffman, used the tote’s lid as a raft while he climbed into a survival suit. The Coast Guard released video of this tote-ally awesome rescue, and the story will soon be featured on the Weather Channel’s hit series Coast Guard Alaska. But many of us will remember this story through the words of Tele in her blog “Hooked,” who witnessed the hoist from the Good Samaritan vessel Nerka.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski addresses the 100th Anniversary ANB/ANS Grand Camp convention in Sitka. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

In other top news of the year: Sitka hosted the 100th Anniversary Grand Camp of the Alaska Native Brotherhood in early October. Office-holders and office-seekers shouldered their way to the podium for a chance to speak to the historic gathering. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who owes her historic write-in re-election in 2010 to the Alaska Native vote, put it succinctly:

“The Alaska Native vote was completely underestimated in 2010. My friends, it will never be underestimated again.”

In April, Alaska’s supreme court ruled in favor of Sitkans for Responsible Government, who drafted a ballot proposition in 2008 that would have given Sitka voters control over land disposals at Sawmill Cove. Back then, the city’s legal department blocked the initiative by refusing to certify the language, despite more than enough signatures on the petition. Now, the city is trying to block the initiative through other legal tactics, despite the high court’s ruling.

Audio: 3-2-1 the Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring fishery is now open.

Seine boats await an opening at Crescent Harbor, prior to the 2012 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery. (KCAW photo/Ed Ronco)

Herring seiners in Sitka’s sac roe fishery in March had their largest quota in modern history, but caught less than half. With depressed herring markets, it wasn’t quite a disaster, but Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologist Dave Gordon, who oversees the fishery, admitted that it was a mystery.

“Herring are well known to oscillate quite dramatically over short periods of time. It looks like something has happened to the Sitka Sound stock. What it is, we don’t quite know.”

An adjustment in the department’s forecast model was a factor in the 2012 fishery. ADF&G’s preliminary guideline harvest level for sac roe herring in 2013 has returned to more conservative numbers.

In no particular order, some of the news in 2012 that left Sitkans shaken, thoughtful, or thrilled included

A rare, fatal bear mauling in Peril Straits north of Sitka in October, that caused authorities to destroy seven bears in the area.
The abrupt death of Sitka magistrate Bruce Horton, in an accident in his home in January.
The gift of $500,000 from an Alabama donor, Carol Odess, to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, for the completion of Allen Auditorium.
A move by the remaining trustees of the former Sheldon Jackson College to claim title to the Redoubt Falls area, blocking a similar claim by the Sealaska Corporation.
The US Supreme Court’s summertime ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — which was well-received by Sitka’s largely self-employed and self-insured fishing fleet, who have been living under high premiums and high deductibles for decades. Wendy Alderson and her husband and daughter own the 47-foot Katie J.

“It’s kind of scary having a sick kid and thinking, Okay, are you sick enough to go to the doctor? Is your earache going to be gone in the morning? We always err on the safe side, but it’s still frustrating.”

Many individual state titles and team championships by Sitka’s students, including the Mt. Edgecumbe Lady Braves Volleyball team, Sitka High’s Lady Wolves Softball (who took their third state title in a row), Sitka High’s undefeated Mock Trial team, and Sitka High’s Drama, Debate, and Forensics team.
And possibly the greatest athlete Sitka ever produced in Sitka — Herb Didrickson — was named to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. His longtime friend Gil Truitt led the nomination campaign with an intensity that surely rivaled Didrickson’s on the basketball court. Didrickson is now in his eighties; Truitt says he was a player decades ahead of his time.

“Herb would have been a star today because of the attributes he had: Great quickness, quick hands, long arms. Talk about speed. Jumping ability.”

Karissa, John and Karen Amrhein pose at Thomsen Harbor on Friday. A newborn Karissa was found in a sink at the harbor around midnight on Jan. 24, 1994. The Amrheins adopted her three weeks later. She just graduated from high school in Florida. (KCAW photo/Ed Ronco)

And finally, the best story in Sitka in 2012 that we wish had never happened: A newborn baby discovered in a harbor restroom 18 years ago returns to Sitka to thank her rescuers. She’s now an artist, college-bound, with a family that cares deeply about her — so much so that they didn’t hesitate to let her make this unusual trip to a Thomsen Harbor bathroom sink.

“My past is my past, but my future is what I look forward to. Knowing more about my past isn’t going to change who I am or who I’ve become.”

That’s Karissa Amrhein, and we are thankful to have gotten to know her better.

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