Search and Rescue authorities in Yakutat say unusually high flows on the Situk River late last week claimed the lives of two visiting fishermen, when their skiff flooded and capsized. A third passenger on the boat was safely rescued.
Authorities have identified the two deceased men as Michael Hunt Sr. of Milford, Pennsylvania, and Richard Kowal Sr. of Port Jarvis, New York. A third passenger on the boat, Douglas Koehn, survived the incident. All three men were frequent visitors to Yakutat and both Hunt and Kowal were well-known in the community.
The Yakutat Police Department received word at around 9:45 am on Friday September 24, that a boat had capsized on the Situk River, approximately nine miles outside of the city. Yakutat Police Chief Jim Capra says the men were traveling up river in a 15-foot jet boat when the skiff became pinned while attempting to avoid logs in the river.
“The water had risen to not flood stage but a very high stage overnight,” said Capra. “They probably had experience at that river level but the flows are probably twice as fast and the rivers normally not very fast, but it is always full of log jams and log piles. It looks like they misjudged the speed of the current.”
Capra said the boat took on water after crashing into a pile of logs and capsized. Both Koehn and Hunt became pinned in the water, but only Koehn was able to free himself.
“Michael was pinned just downstream on that same log, the same log the boat was on and, and didn’t make it,” said Capra.
A pair of sportfishermen passing by spotted both the boat and Hunt, but were unable to retrieve him due to the strong current.
“It was just too dangerous with the current. So they went downstream looking for anybody else or any debris and they found Doug got Doug to the landing and raced into town,” Capra said.
The fishermen called first responders, who quickly organized a search. According to Capra, a group of volunteer firefighters, searchers, and EMS retrieved Hunt’s body around two hours after the initial incident, and continued the search for Kowal. Although they were able to remove a substantial portion of the log cache, Kowal would remain missing for another four days.
“Other than a couple of small items no sign of Richard so we concentrated on the high probability search areas with probes, poles and an underwater camera on a probe looking under and through the log jams in the high probability areas,” Capra recounted.
One of the search teams found Kowal’s body on Monday, near the accident site.
Capra says over 50 volunteers and first responders aided in the search and rescue efforts, which took four days. Koehn was taken to the Yakutat Community Health Clinic to be evaluated, and later released.