State ferry Malaspina rescues injured hiker near Skagway

Man fell down cliff into waters on rocky shoreline

The Alaska Marine Highway System's M/V Malaspina rescued an injured hiker near Skagway Thursday night.

According to reports from Malaspina Capt. Nick Kollars and Second Mate Leif Short-Forrer the rescue of Joey Nowiki, 33, occurred at approximately 10:40 p.m. approximately one mile south of the Skagway harbor.

The Malaspina was near the eastern shoreline of Taiya Inlet approaching Skagway when bow lookout Roger Sperber heard cries for help from the beach. The bow lookout is one of the few areas on the vessel with a reduced level of noise disturbance. That, along with a good vantage point and the watch diligence of Sperber was important.

"He is one of the most skilled and impressive men in the fleet," Kollars stated of Juneau resident Sperber. "He has been here a long time. People always wonder what the bowman does. He is looking and listening for anything in or around the water. If something happens, for instance if we lost control or steering, he is also there to drop the anchor to stop us or slow us down. Well, aside from keeping us safe going into port that night he saved a life."

Kollars also stated that if the newer model of ferry had been sailing that location its ventilation and ship noises would make it difficult to have heard Nowiki.

Sperber immediately contacted the bridge and Kollars, Chief Mate Mike Barrett and Deck Cadet Cody Hanas began scanning the shoreline and cliffs with binoculars. Kollars backed the Malaspina and spun the ship to starboard creating a lee on the port side. A cashier from the ship phoned the bridge that passengers could hear a faint call for help.

An announcement was made to the 45 passengers to visually aid in the search and many helped the 46-member crew locate the victim above the tide line. It is believed that Hanas made the first sighting along a steep and rocky section of the shore.
Short-Forrer and Boatswain Clark Posey launched from the Malaspina in a Fast Rescue Boat to recover Nowiki.

"Our crew is really professional," Kollars said. "They all work together great here. It is one of the better crews I have worked with, everyone gets along."

According to the FRB team Nowiki was bleeding from multiple portions of his skull, and had two large swollen areas on each the front and backside of his head. His legs and arms were streaking blood from multiple gashes and scrapes.

Nowiki was ambulatory and conscious and able to answer questions, however he refused to sit and was shaking uncontrollably.

The FRB began transport to the Skagway small boat harbor. Short-Forrer removed his mustang suit, sweatshirt and woolen cap to put on Nowiki who was dry heaving and entering shock.

Skagway EMS personnel met the rescue party at the dock at 11:10 and continued stabilization of Nowiki and transfer to Skagway's Dahl Memorial Clinic. When arriving at the ambulance Nowiki had no memory of what actually happened but did remember the Malaspina spotlight on him.

The Skagway police department stated that Nowiki was treated at the clinic and released with non-life threatening injuries.

According to information gathered by the various rescue personnel Nowiki, a seasonal employee in Skagway, had apparently been hiking along Sturgill's Landing Trail and tumbled down a cliff some distance, landed in the water, swam to shore and was able to pull himself onto the rocks.

The location was such that his only chance to reach assistance would be through the water. At least one fishing boat had passed close to his location but did not hear his cries for help.

Nowiki stated that he was preparing to enter the water and try to swim towards the Malaspina before they heard his cries and illuminated his location by spotlight.

"Obviously I am extremely pleased with the performance of the Malaspina crew," Alaska DOT & PF Deputy Commissioner for Marine Operations Capt. Michael Neussl said. "Particularly the lookout on the bow who heard those cries for help, paid attention to that, took action on that, and ended up with a successful lifesaving rescue by the ship. Mariners and seafarers have a long history of helping each other out. This happened to be a shore-sight incident but it is good to have the Marine Highway System traversing the waters. It was very fortunate they were transiting by at the time."

Neussl forwarded the rescue information to the Coast Guard at Sector Juneau and said award or certificate considerations are being discussed for presentation to those involved in the rescue.

Capt. Kollars was so impressed with Sperber's abilities and humility on the bow that he composed a poem entitled "The Lookout on the Bow." Wrote Kollars:

"They often ask why
Is that man out standing on the bow
Through rain, and snow and dark of night.
Ever vigilant is he.
It was not I, who saved a man's life.
It was the man who first heard his cry.
The lonely lookout on the bow,
Who did first hear his cry."

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at


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