Father, son escape Bayliner blaze in Gastineau Channel

Posted: Friday, June 04, 2004

A fire that destroyed the family's boat and an afternoon of fishing for a father and son had a bright side, said one of the men, who jumped into Gastineau Channel to escape the flames.

"Mom's happy the boat is gone," Stephen Lium said after returning home in the afternoon. She didn't like the old thing.

Lium, 23, said the fire immediately engulfed the floor at the back of the 22-foot Bayliner and he and his father, 74-year-old Robert Lium, of Douglas, jumped overboard. They were in the water about five minutes before the Coast Guard picked them up.

The fire was spotted on the Liums' boat and reported to the Coast Guard at 11:05 a.m., Petty Officer Roger Wetherell said.

Lium, 23, visiting his family from Telluride, Colo., said it was a quick rescue. "We're very grateful to the Coast Guard."

The boat continued to smolder well into Thursday afternoon.

"We had a full tank of gas," Lium said.

After the Liums were rescued, the Coast Guard watched it burn to see that it didn't create a hazard for navigation, Wetherell said. "If a boat is not worth saving, and it's not a hazard to navigation, it's safer to let it burn," he explained.

Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Dan Buchsbaum said the boat eventually sank near Mayflower Island in 13 feet of water, with the tide out.

Lium said he had no idea how deep the water was when he and his father jumped in, because their thoughts were on getting to shore. "We were in it together."

Wetherell said the Liums were brought in and taken by ambulance to Bartlett Regional Hospital.

Lium said he required no treatment. His father, "an old scuba diver," was treated for mild hypothermia.

Lium said he has no idea how the fire started, but he believes it began in the inboard engine. "The whole back of the boat was on fire," he added.

It would have been a beautiful day to go fishing with his father, he said. "Yesterday I was cleaning up the old boat, scraping the mold off."

The boat has been in the family for about five years, Lium said. "We kind of fixed it up."

Lium said he grew up in Juneau and arrived a couple of days ago from Telluride, where he works as a ski lift mechanic.

He will be around for a couple more weeks. He said he isn't afraid of going back on the water. It's been a couple of years since he's been fishing with his father.

"I'd like to try," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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