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Yakutat fishermen died of exposure and drowning

Attempted to swim to shore with lifejackets

Posted: June 21, 2011 - 11:25pm

According to an uncle of one of the two fishermen who died in Monday’s commercial fishing accident near Yakutat, both of the victims were wearing life jackets and died due to the extreme temperature of the water.

Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters said the boat appeared to have been swamped, and the deaths were likely a combination of hypothermia and drowning.

Yakutat residents Rex Newlun, 16, and Wayne Grey, 29, died as they tried to swim to shore after the 20-foot set net skiff they were in flipped over. A third Yakutat man, Jonathan Pavlik, 30, was found clinging to the overturned skiff and rescued.

Jack Endicot said his nephew, Newlun, was washed overboard by a rogue wave that flipped the boat over as the trio of commercial sockeye salmon set-net fishermen were exiting Dangerous River southeast of Yakutat.

The Dangerous River flows from Harlequin Lake, near ice fields at the base of the Brabazon Mountain Range in the Yakutat Ranger District in the Tongass National Forest, down to the Gulf of Alaska. The river mouth creates an estuary with the ocean waters and is known for treacherous currents and undertows that can suck a person underwater even if wearing a life jacket. The river is deceptively shallow in areas as well.

The skiff overturned roughly three quarters of a mile off the river mouth.

“They tried to swim to shore,” Endicot said. “They had life jackets on. The water is extremely cold.”

Pavlik is an experienced Alaska commercial fisherman from a well-known fishing family and Grey and Newlun were experienced in the waters around Yakutat.

Newlun would have been 17 in a few days and was captain of the Yakutat High School track team. Newlun placed second at the state championships in the shot put according to Yakutat track coach Alex Souza.

“I just spoke with him five days ago,” Souza said. “I reminded him he still had the school track uniform.”

Souza coached Newlun for two years.

“I have never coached and known such a strong, bright, outgoing, and polite kid,” Souza said. “Rex was one of a kind. He was one of those kids that you knew was going to make it in the real world and make a name for himself. He told me his plan was to be a state trooper, break the school record in shot and discus, and so much more. The world lost a kid that made everyone around him better. He was a person you wanted to be around. A student everyone looked up to and wanted to be. I looked forward to practice because of him. I am in shock with the outcome. As a teacher, coach, and friend. I will always remember Rex until the day I die. My condolences go out to the Newlun family.”

Souza also said that he grew up next door to Grey as kids.

“We went to weddings together and enjoyed many experiences as we grew up,” Souza said. “He was a hunter, a devoted brother and son, and he was a part of everyone’s life in a positive way. We loved him very much. I will miss Wayne and hold on to my friends even tighter after this tragic event.”

The Coast Guard Juneau Command Center was contacted at 5:09 p.m. Monday by pilot Les Hartley of Alsek Air Service in Yakutat who spotted an overturned skiff with a person clinging to the top of it. A seafood company in Yakutat was also notified and launched a boat to rescue the survivor. Hartley later spotted the two bodies of the dead fishermen on a nearby beach.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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