Two Sitka hunters sustained serious injuries Tuesday evening, after their boat struck a cliff in Kakul Narrows, about 25 miles north of town. Both men have been hospitalized, one in Seattle.
37-year old Mitch McGraw and 34-year old Nick Galanin were returning from a hunting trip in Peril Strait at dusk when their aluminum boat ran aground while traveling at high speed.
The ground was not a beach, however. It was a sheer cliff face.
Speaking from his hospital bed Wednesday afternoon, Galanin told KCAW that he had dozed off in the passenger seat after a long day of hunting. He awoke just moments before the crash and dove toward the back of the 31-foot Almar.
Both men were knocked unconscious. When Galanin came to, he summoned help and began to steer the boat south toward Sitka. McGraw also revived, and was able to assist.
A Coast Guard helicopter was already airborne at the time of the accident, and was quickly on scene.
Sitka Mountain Rescue also responded in the harbor skiff. Rescue captain Don Kluting says the Almar’s power and steering were still operable, despite the crash.
“The damage to the boat was all in the bow — the impact area was the bow. There was glass everywhere in the cabin. It was kind of a mess on board the boat.”
Kluting says McGraw had already been packaged in a litter and hoisted into the helicopter. Galanin was also taken on board.
“We went ahead and stood by while the Coast Guard helicopter went in and conducted hoist operations, and then went in and picked up their rescue swimmer on the beach. They went ahead and landed.”
McGraw and Galanin’s boat was in Neva Strait by this time. A good Samaritan vessel operated by Jerry Matthews and Noah Mayo had assisted in getting the distressed Almar to the beach, between Whitestone Cove and High Water Island.
Both McGraw and Galanin were flown by the Coast Guard back to Sitka. Galanin was hospitalized for a broken rib, four spinal fractures, and cut on his head; he says McGraw was injured by colliding with the Almar’s steering column. McGraw was subsequently medevacked to Seattle for further care.
All that remained was to salvage the damaged boat. Good Samaritans Matthews and Mayo brought the Almar alongside their craft, but it became clear that it was taking on water.
Kluting says they made an unusual decision.
“Together we determined that the best course of action was going to be to actually drive the 31-foot boat back. The engine was still running, the prop was undamaged. To get the bow — the area that had been significantly damaged — out of the water.”
Rescuers were met by family members of the victims at the Starrigavan ramp at about 6 PM, and the damaged Almar was hauled out on a trailer. Troopers estimate the damage to McGraw’s vessel at $30,000.