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My Turn: Improvement needed for future water rescues

Posted: Monday, April 18, 2005

This is in response to the article that appeared in the Empire on April 4, 2005, "Death shines a spotlight on rescuers," relating to Peter Barrett's fatal kayak accident.

First, we want to thank the people of Juneau for their overwhelming support we received while we were there for Peter's memorial. Everyone seemed to have our well being in mind, and it helped to ease our pain.

We also applaud the men from the Coast Guard and medics who worked so hard to save our son's life. Thank you.

We have spent some time reflecting on possibilities that could improve the rescue attempts, and we have talked to people in the community about this subject. We would like to help in the effort to give the next person in need a better chance for survival than our son had.

We wonder, for example, why all Coast Guard rescue operations must originate from only one geographical location in winter (downtown Juneau), and two locations in summer (downtown Juneau and Auke Bay). The area to be covered is extensive, and precious minutes are so essential in these cold water rescues.

In this regard, one should also take in account that the accessibility for the Coast Guard boat can be severely impeded by the tides. The distress call was received by the Coast Guard at 3:15 p.m. on March 15, 2005. The high tide was going to reach 13.1 at 4:39 p.m. The Coast Guard boat needs at least a 12 foot clearing for traveling safely north up the channel. Thus, in this case, the boat had to be put on a trailer to be able to access the accident site. All this cost precious minutes.

Here are some suggestions we have. Since 80 percent of boats are launched from Auke Bay, would it be possible to station one Coast Guard rescue boat with personnel at Auke Bay year round? If this is not feasible, why couldn't there be at least one Coast Guard helicopter stationed in Juneau during the winter?

Furthermore, rescue efforts should come from several different places, not just the Coast Guard. We have been informed that some improvements have already been made in this regard, which resulted in the successful rescue of one fishermen at Smugglers Cove on March 29, before the Coast Guard could arrive. While it was pointed out that "the circumstances were different from Peter Barrett's death," we fail to see the difference.

More to the point, the Capital City Fire and Rescue could be equipped with a boat appropriate for ocean rescues. Presently, they only have a boat for river rescues.

To the helicopter companies, one of their employees told us they could have been at Peter's side in 90 seconds, giving Peter much greater chance to live. The thought of this lost possibility is very painful to us parents. Thus, local helicopter companies should be equipped with water rescue equipment, at least for one of their helicopters.

Until any of these life saving improvements have been carried out, signs should be put up at popular beaches warning people that rescue efforts make take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Wet suits should also be mandatory.

We hope that the people of Juneau will support us in our ideas for improvement, since virtually anyone could be the next potential victim.

• Joe and Gertrude Barrett live in Port Angeles, Wash., and are the parents of the late Peter Barrett.



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