Coast Guard reminds residents to be safe

The U.S. Coast Guard made two rescues in Southeast Alaska in the past two days, prompting spokespeople to remind Juneau waterfarers to be safe as the weather takes a turn for the worse.

“The weather is changing, and we’ve had a couple of back-to-back storm fronts come through, which makes things kind of dicey out on the waters,” Chief Public Affairs Specialist Kip Wadlow, District 17 spokesman, said in a phone interview. “We encourage people to use correct safety gear, including life jackets, rafts and immersion suits, especially this time of year.”

Wind gusts spiked at 40 miles per hour with seven-foot-high seas as a Coast Guard Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew rescued a man from a sinking vessel in Keku Strait around 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The helicopter lifted Lester Kuntz, 47, to safety just before his 22-foot pleasure craft, The Keeper, sank south of Conclusion Island. Wadlow said just 10 minutes more, and it could have been a different story.

“It appears that in this case Kuntz was very lucky,” Lt. j.g. James Dooley of Coast Guard Sector Juneau said in a statement. “He called his family in Wrangell just as he was departing Kake so they had a good idea when to expect him and knew how long the voyage would take. They knew when to call for help.”

Kuntz was traveling from Kake to Wrangell and was expected to arrive Monday morning. A family member called the Coast Guard Monday evening when he had not arrived.

A rescue team searched for about two hours on Monday to no avail in Keku Strait, Sumner Strait and the northern shore of Zarembo Island, a statement read. It was the second rescue team that found him unharmed, and “got to him within 10 minutes of his boat sinking,” Wadlow said.

On Monday, a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew rescued two men in their 50s after their skiff became swamped and they were stranded for 18 hours, exposed to the elements, on Raspberry Island north of Kodiak.

The crew of a nearby vessel saw their red flare on the southwest side of Raspberry Island near Butki Point around 9:30 p.m, and that crew alerted the Coast Guard. A helicopter lifted the two men to safety, and the men were reported to be in good condition, according to a statement.

Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Sara Francis in Kodiak said that while it was good the two men had flares as a signalling device, the Coast Guard strongly encourages recreational vessels to have other communication devices.

“There’s no guarantee that someone will see that flare,” Francis said.

She recommends everyone purchase the same equipment that’s required of all commercial fishing vessels and all passenger ships — a high frequency radio or an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). The EPIRB automatically transmits a signal to the Coast Guard via satellite, Francis said, making it easier to locate a missing person.

Another way to increase your chances of being found quicker if in distress is by leaving behind a float plan that details your identity, route, where you’re going, how you’re getting there, when you’re leaving and when you’re expected to arrive as well as any pertinent medical information. Seasoned boaters know to leave one behind with a loved one, but a float plan can also be dropped off with the Alaska State Troopers or the harbor master. It’s also a great idea to leave one on your car dashboard before going on the water, she said.

“It’ll confirm that you’ve left,” she said. “‘Yup, Joe Smith’s car is here, and oh, here’s his float plan.’ It’s just more information for our command center to go off on than a frantic call from a loved one.”

A template of a float plan can be downloaded at www.floatplancentral.org/.

In light of the recent rescues, the Coast Guard is also encouraging people to get back to water safety basics — wear life jackets, dress for the weather to stay dry and bring extra food, water and supplies.

“The Coast Guard would like to remind individuals to take emergency equipment with you when enjoying Alaska’s outdoors,” Cmdr. Adam Tyndale, Sector Anchorage Chief of Response, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Emergency equipment should include communication devices, signaling devices, extra food and water, extra dry clothes and a personal locator beacon. It is also important to tell family, friends or the harbor master your trip plans including departure and arrival times.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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