By Ken Smith
In a span of two days, the Troopers’ A-Star helicopter rescued stranded hikers on Gull Rock and a capsized Kayaker in Turnagain Arm.
The first rescue occurred on July 27 at approximately 9:30 p.m. The trooper dispatch center in Soldotna received a report from Kay Jackson, of Anchorage, about three stranded teenage hikers on a rock face approximately two miles north of Hope on the shore of Turnagain Arm. Two female hikers and one male hiker had been on the Gull Rock Trail out of Hope. They decided to leave the trail and walk along the beach. Eventually they realized the tide was coming in around them and they were not going to be able to get back. They climbed onto a rock outcropping and waited for the tide to recede. Once the tide had receded they attempted to return to the trail but the condition and consistency of the glacial mud made the travel impossible. The Alaska State Troopers’ A-Star helicopter was deployed to the area to rescue them. The hikers were not injured during the incident.
Two days later, on July 29 at around 4:00 p.m., Troopers in Girdwood responded to mile 94 of the Seward Highway for a kayaker in distress. Sean Michael Hickey, age 19 of Anchorage, was in his kayak on Turnagain Arm when the bore tide hit him and ejected him into the cold waters. Hickey was quickly separated from his kayak wearing only a dry suit on the upper half of his body. The combination of the bore tide and the swift currents struck Hickey with enough force to strip his protective clothing off on his lower extremities, which accelerated the hypothermic effects.
“I think it was the second time that he’d been out there,” said Trooper Howard Peterson at the Girdwood Post. “I don’t know how you practice taking on a boretide on the inlet, but he got lucky this time. He was super lucky that we weren’t doing some other things with the helicopter.”
Peterson said Hickey was out so far into the Arm that people couldn’t see him without binoculars. Peterson was returning from a false alarm at Indian, where somebody called in to report a person in distress in the Arm, but it turned out to be a drifting log. He was then called again to respond to a person in distress by Twentymile River, a call that would also prove to be a false alarm.
Earlier in the day, Peterson saw six kayakers entering the Arm near the Twentymile River. After responding to the second call at Twentymile, he stopped at the spot where the six Kayakers had entered the Arm. All the kayakers had returned but two. He looked through his binoculars and saw an empty kayak and Hickey’s kayaking partner paddling towards it. Peterson scanned the water for the missing kayaker and saw Hickey far off shore, waving in distress.
“When I looked through the binoculars, I could see that he was waving for help,” Peterson said. “Once the bore tide comes in you’re on your own because that wall comes in fast.”
Rescue attempts were hindered due to water currents estimated at 10 knots, with wind speed at approximately 30-40 mph and floating debris.
“Once he got ejected from that Kayak, he was being hit by debris like driftwood and sand,” said Peterson. “It’s like being hit by a sandblaster. He went out there with one other guy. His buddy was out about 500 yards trying to get the empty kayak. In about two to three minutes, they were about 500 yards from each other. The other guy made it back on shore, but he said there was no way he could make it back to his friend.”
Sergeant Bryan Barlow, also from the trooper’s Girdwood Post, happened to be riding in the A-Star helicopter, which was surveying the Arm and Cook Inlet that day. Peterson radioed to the helicopter and directed them to Hickey’s location. The helicopter located Hickey and pulled him from the water. Hickey was transported to the shoreline where he was treated for minor injuries by Girdwood EMS and released at the scene.