Two people are safe after a massive landslide destroyed the cabin they were camping in Sunday morning (5-13-13) near Sitka.
An air taxi pilot rescued the pair from a debris field estimated to be 20 feet deep. All their belongings were buried in the slide. Their dog remains missing.
Kevin Knox, 41, and his girlfriend Maggie Gallin, 28, were staying at Redoubt Lake, a popular Forest Service recreation cabin about 15 miles southeast of Sitka.
The cabin is located at the head of the valley, and is surrounded by steep mountain slopes and rocky cliffs that climb 4,000 feet above the surface of the lake.
Knox says the mountainside behind the cabin was showing signs of instability the previous evening.
“There’d been a lot of rock activity from this slide that was off back behind the cabin, all night on Saturday night. I was just kind of watching it. It was just small rocks kind of tumbling off and making a lot of racket.”
The next morning, Knox and Gallin went out on the lake in the rowboat provided by the Forest Service, to do a little fishing. The mountainside came down as they returned to shore at about 11 AM.
“We had just tied the boat up and Maggie was in the cabin, and it just let loose — a huge piece off of the side of the mountain. I yelled for Maggie to run, to get out of the cabin. We started running down the beach.”
Redoubt Lake is a glacier-carved fjord. It’s just a few feet above sea level. What passes for a beach there is a narrow strip of pebbles. Knox and Gallin did not have much room to make their escape as old growth timber, mud, and rock began to press down the valley.
“We were running along the lakeshore and got thrown into the water, trees kind of toppling on top of us. We both popped up three or four feet from each other. Then we got our wits about us and just tried to hunker down.”
Knox and Gallin were soaked to the skin. The cabin — and all their belongings — were under a debris field Knox thinks is about 20 feet deep. They wrung out clothes and tried to shelter as best they could until their scheduled pick up three hours later.
They also spent time calling for Luna, Knox’s ten-year-old Border Collie.
“She was in between Maggie and I as we were running down the beach. I think she thought it was a little bit of a game because I was shouting, Run run!, Go! and she jumped up and nipped at my sleeve. So I know she was right there. I kept laying in bed last night thinking, How did we get through it, and she didn’t.”
The couple flew back to look for Luna on Monday morning, but there was no sign of her. Because of the instability of the slide area, the pilot chose not not to land the float plane. The slide originated 600 feet up the mountainside and is about 200 yards wide. The lake’s inlet stream — Knox says — is beginning to carve a new channel through the debris field.
Knox is grateful to Harris Air, and pilot Mark Hackett in particular, for putting his plane down and looking for them on Sunday in marginal conditions. Knox says he signalled Hackett by waving his bright yellow raincoat.