Troopers, Iditarod volunteer help rescue child who fell through ice in Skwentna

Two men in winter clothes stand in deep snow
Doug Ramsey and Alaska Wildlife Trooper Jason Knier at the hole in the ice where they pulled out an 8-year-old boy who had fallen into the river on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Department of Public Safety)

An Iditarod volunteer and two state wildlife troopers in Skwentna rescued an 8-year-old boy who fell through the ice on a tributary creek of the Skwentna River at the Iditarod checkpoint Tuesday. 

“It happened really fast,” said Doug Ramsey, an Iditarod volunteer from Sundance, Wyo. “I was glad I was at the right place at the right time.”

Ramsey wouldn’t have been at Skwentna, the first checkpoint of this year’s Iditarod, in a normal year. But a course change meant the race would come through twice, about a week apart, so Ramsey was stationed there waiting for teams to return, killing time in the sleepy village of a couple dozen residents. 

“I was walking down on the ice down there, picking up some garbage and just looking around at the area. And two troopers came along on their snowmobiles. And they stopped and we’d been visiting a little bit and didn’t think too much about it,” he said. 

Nearby, two local children were playing around on snow on top where a creek runs into the Skwentna River. Suddenly, Ramsey heard a commotion. 

“The older boy, he was saying ‘Help! Help! He’s in the water!’ And I turned around and all I could see was kind of the younger boy in the water and through the ice about from maybe his waist up. And so I immediately turned around and ran towards him,” he said. 

As he approached the boys, he remembered instructions for rescuing people on ice from ice fishing back in Wyoming, he lay on the ice to distribute his weight and extended his arms toward the boy. 

A hole in ice
A hole in the ice where an 8-year-old fell into the water. (Department of Public Safety)

“I reached out and grabbed the back of his coat and started pulling him as much as I could, up towards out of the hole up on the ice,” he said. 

But lying on the ice, he couldn’t get enough leverage. 

Meanwhile, the two wildlife troopers sprinted over to help. 

“We realized it was kind of more of a serious situation,” said Wildlife Trooper Jason Knier. 

Knier and his partner Dan Gunderson were lucky to be at the right place at the right time, too. They had been on a trail patrol mission by snow machine when the trailer hitch of their snow machine broke, delaying their planned schedule. If it hadn’t been for the hitch, they’d perhaps have been back at the trooper station Wasilla.

When Knier got to the hole in the ice, he saw the boy slowly getting dragged farther under the ledge.

“He just kept disappearing underneath the ice as his legs kind of curled around the ice. The current kept dragging him downstream as he kept getting pulled, I guess you could say,” he said. He thinks he remembers the older brother yelling ‘I can’t keep holding him.’

Knier called out for the boy to hold out his hand. 

“I was able to grab onto his one arm and just kind of yard him out of the water completely,” he said.  

Knier said the boy was cold, but without them being there, he easily could have been sucked under the ice and the day could have turned into a body recovery. 

“He was definitely wet from his neck down. He was shivering quite vigorously,” he said.  

Steve Childs, the boys’ grandfather and village postmaster, had a slightly different take after investigating the scene later in the day. He was told about the rescue later in the day after the boys had warmed up in a nearby cabin.

“It did look pretty impressive and everything until I stuck a stick in the water,” he said. His stick test showed the water to be knee-deep.

“When they pulled him out is how he got so wet and through the snow. It wasn’t quite in the river,” he said. 

Still, he said, he’s thankful the troopers and the volunteers were there to help. All of those involved agree water safety in the winter is something to take seriously. 

“They did learn to be even more careful in what they already were. And they did handle it quite well,” Childs said. 

This story previously misstated the location of the incident. It was at the confluence of a smaller creek and the Skwentna River, not at the Skwentna and Yentna Rivers, as previously stated.

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