Hunters’ fate dependent upon flares

KODIAK, Alaska - Michael Mitchell, Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Stoecker, and Richard Barth, discuss the events of a recent rescue from Raspberry Island Nov. 2, 2011. Stoecker is the rescue swimmer with the helicopter crew that assisted the stranded hunters. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen.

Two men travelled to Raspberry Island, just north of Kodiak, for a five-day hunting trip, but after not catching anything they decided it was time to go home.

Michael Mitchell, a North Pole resident, and Richard Barth, a Delta Junction resident, gathered up their gear, loaded it into their skiff and headed back to Anton Larsen Bay transiting through Kupreanof Strait.

“We went out into the straits as it looked flat,” said Barth. “But the weather was worse in the bay area, right where the bay meets the strait.”

As the two men were battling the rough water, the skiff’s motor overheated and the emergency light came on. The men didn’t know what was wrong with the skiff.  They just knew they had lost power and had only about 300 yards to go.

“We knew we had to get out of this area and back to shore. To the right were rocks and to the left were rocks,” said Barth. “We shot for the middle and thankfully we landed on the beach area.”

As they beached their skiff, it began taking on water from the three to four-foot high waves. They were able to get their gear out of the boat before it became soaked.

They knew they couldn’t get off Raspberry Island themselves and needed help. Barth and Mitchell changed into dry clothes, set up their tents and cots and made a fire.

“We could have stayed there for two weeks if we needed to,” said Mitchell. “We paid attention to how many boats were going by and we tried to hail one with a flare during the day, but no one saw it.  We even built a bonfire, but no one noticed it either.”

Fast forward about 18 hours; the men began to bed down for the night. They saw a few vessels transiting about five miles away, so they shot off another flare.  However, the closest vessel didn’t respond.  Thankfully, the crew of the good Samaritan vessel Capt’n Sam did see it and arrived about an hour later.

“We heard the vessel’s engines,” said Barth.  “So we knew he saw us, but since we didn’t have any communication devices and the water was too shallow for him to get close, we had to yell.”

The crew of the Capt’n Sam called the Coast Guard on VHF-FM Channel 16 stating two men were stranded on Raspberry Island and needed assistance.

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Hayhawk helicopter crew was launched and once there, the aircrew decided it was best to land on the shore.

“I spotted them first on the forward looking infrared radar in the helicopter,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Stoecker. “After we landed, I started walking in their direction. They saw me and shined a light in my direction.”

Once they saw the helicopter the men knew everything was going to be okay.

“When we saw the helicopter, I felt like a five-year-old at Christmas,” said Mitchell.  “It was like Santa Claus arrived.”

The men were taken safely back to Air Station Kodiak and needed no medical attention. This is once incident that could have gone wrong.  Fortunately, the hunters had signal flares to hail a good Samaritan vessel.

“I’m a hunter and I recommend having a radio, a personal locator beacon and ensure it is registered,” said Stoecker.  “Thank goodness they had flares.  I’m not sure what they would have done if they didn’t.”

The Coast Guard recommends these items and actions when enjoying Alaska’s outdoors:

  • Communication device such as a hand-held VHF radio in addition to a cell phone
  • Registered personal locator beacon
  • Signal flares
  • Extra food, water, clothing
  • File a float or trip plan with family, friends or the harbormaster
  • Items necessary to start a fire, such as matches or flint and tinder

To view the initial news release, click here.