A near tragedy was averted in Sitka on Monday morning after a fishing boat skipper who had fallen overboard was rescued by his girlfriend on an inflatable mattress.
According to Sitka Police Department spokesperson Serena Wild, a 911 caller reported two people in the water near Magic Island shortly after 10 a.m. Monday.
A fishing boat reportedly departed Sitka’s Eliason Harbor northbound earlier in the morning, with the skipper at the wheel and the deckhand below asleep. Once clear of the breakwater, the skipper put the vessel on autopilot and stepped on deck to wash the windows.
A few miles north of the harbor at Magic Island, the skipper’s girlfriend came down to the beach to wave.
“His partner was waving him off on the beach there,” said Fire Chief Craig Warren, who responded to the accident. “The story that I got was that he went out to wash his windows and lost his footing and fell in the water. His partner had to go out with, it sounded like almost an inflatable air mattress, and got to him. They both made it to a rock, got out of the water and waited for help.”
Warren said the couple was rescued within an hour by a fire department volunteer on a paddleboard, who paddled them to shore one at a time.
One person was transported to Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center for hypothermia treatment.
The fishing boat continued northbound under autopilot for about five miles before it ran aground in Eastern Bay.
“We were about 100 yards away when it hit. Hit at a nice spot actually,” Warren said. “It kind of raised up on its bow and stopped it. But that woke up the crew member, who was able to get the boat powered down.”
The vessel sustained minor damage from striking the rocks. First responders aboard Sitka’s emergency response vessel made contact with the deckhand and found him uninjured.
KCAW’s Robert Woolsey contributed to this report.