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Fairweather interrupts sea trials for rescue

Fast ferry brings UAS student to safety during bad weather Sunday

Posted: November 8, 2011 - 1:03am
Dani Gifford shows off her souvenir Alaska Marine Highway sweatshirt on Monday. She ran into trouble on what was supposed to be a one-night trip to Admiralty Island, but was rescued by the crew of the Fairweather on Sunday. She turns 20 today.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Dani Gifford shows off her souvenir Alaska Marine Highway sweatshirt on Monday. She ran into trouble on what was supposed to be a one-night trip to Admiralty Island, but was rescued by the crew of the Fairweather on Sunday. She turns 20 today.

A state ferry making sea trials after engine repairs rescued a woman Sunday, heading off what might have been another tragedy to befall the Juneau area in recent days.

“Imagine if we’d lost another young person, after what we’ve gone through in recent days,” said Don Kubley.

Crane operator Boyd Cody died Thursday when a 25-ton machine tipped over, crushing him. On Sunday morning, Evan Smith, 22, died after falling about 80 feet from a cliff into Kowee Creek.

Don Kubley is the father of Dylan Kubley, one of a group of boaters whose return to Juneau was delayed by mechanical problems and bad weather.

Among the group was 20-year-old Dani Gifford of Palmer, a junior at the University of Alaska Southeast. She went out on the boat Saturday, planning to spend one night and return Sunday morning.

The group was stuck on Admiralty Island’s Barlow Cove Sunday, but unable to return due to high winds and 5-to-7-foot seas, while friends and family tried to raise them or others in the area on cell phones and VHF radio.

A commercial boat in the area volunteered to go look, but was only making 5 mph, Kubley said. That’s when the ferry Fairweather showed up.

Capt. Mike Schlechter was taking it out for sea trials following work on its engines, said Meadow Bailey, spokeswoman for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The ferry crew spotted the group’s two boats in sheltered Barlow Cove, Kubley said, with Chief Engineer Wayne Wilson on the binoculars.

Gifford, who had been too long without her asthma medication, was having difficulty breathing and was becoming hypothermic, she said. She’d planned to take her medication after returning home Sunday morning.

“Because of the breathing problems, I was thinking ‘I’m not going to be able to last another night,’” she said.

Schlechter offered to take her back to Auke Bay, and took the ferry into a sheltered area where the group could bring Gifford in a small boat to be transferred to a ferry lifeboat.

Kubley said she was unconscious when she was brought onto the ferry.

“I was in a very bad asthma attack when they got me to the Fairweather, and that’s the last thing I remember,” she said. “I woke up on the ferry with them giving me oxygen and people saving my life.”

Kubley said the Juneau EMTs spent about 40 minutes warming Gifford up and checking her out, but once she got warmth, oxygen and medication, she improved rapidly and didn’t need hospitalization.

Kubley had high praise for the ferry crew and all involved.

“These guys are some incredible professionals, if they’d not been there, there would be a young lady who wouldn’t be with us today,” he said.

Gifford, too, said she wanted to express how grateful she was to the ferry system for its help.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juenauempire.com.

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