By Melinda Munson
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) lowered a rescue swimmer via helicopter to assist a local resident, stranded on a grounded tree, in the swift current of Dyea’s Taiya River on Aug. 22.
A man and woman were paddling the Taiya River in a tandem canoe when they hit a submerged tree and overturned. The man made it safely to shore. The woman floated about 1,000 meters until she managed to climb onto a fallen tree, located in the middle of the river. Both paddlers were wearing PFDs.
A kayaker following the canoe called the Skagway Fire Department (SFD) from a nearby residence at approximately 4:30 p.m.
After throw ropes failed to reach the victim, SFD Chief Joseph Rau determined the Coast Guard should be notified.
“With the heavy current we were unable to effect the rescue ourselves,” he said.
Rau followed the chain of command by alerting the Alaska State Troopers who called in the USCG. Within 90 minutes, a USCG helicopter arrived from Sitka.
The SFD and volunteers lined up along the river in case the woman fell back into the water. The USCG successfully extracted the woman who was taken to the Skagway Airport where she was met by a SFD ambulance and transferred to Dahl Memorial Clinic.
According to Rau, the woman is in good condition.
Yukon Quest paddler and Dyea resident Jeff Brady had advice for boaters wanting to experience the Taiya River.
“That section of the Taiya River is very dicey, with dangerous sweepers and rocks, and is constantly changing. It should be scouted from the end of McDermott Lane by anyone, at any level, before paddling it,” Brady said.
Rau agreed. “Someone is going to need to have some really high level skills on the river,” he said, noting the strong undercurrents and submerged debris.
Jordan Neumann, Chief Ranger of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park was on site during Saturday’s rescue to assist.
The incident was cleared around 9 p.m.
“I’m glad it turned out well,” Rau said. “I was very nervous with those currents.”