Three rescued from Denali Park river after boat sinks

Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2010

FAIRBANKS — Three people who turned up the wrong river in Denali National Park and Preserve were rescued after their boat sank, stranding them.

Pam Rothwell, 50, and David Watts, 62, of Fairbanks and Marv Page, 63, of Anchorage were picked up by helicopter on June 15, a day after their 24-foot skiff sank in Birch Creek when it struck a snag as the three boaters floated down the river.

The group traveled up the Kantishna River and then turned into Birch Creek, mistaking it for the Muddy River. Birch Creek and the Muddy River converge to form the Kantishna River, park officials said Monday.

The trio left Manley Hot Springs on June 7 for the 300-mile trip to Lake Minchumina, which is just outside the western boundary of Denali National Preserve.

Their plan was to travel up the Tanana River to the Kantishna River and then travel up the Muddy River to Lake Minchumina. None of the three had been on the route before.

While Birch Creek is smaller than the Muddy River, the current at the headwaters appears swifter than that of the Muddy River, which could have been the reason the boaters turned up Birch Creek, park spokeswoman Kris Fister said.

Even though Birch Creek is considered very difficult to navigate because of shallow water, the boaters managed to make it approximately 40 miles up the river before the engine failed and they began floating downstream. They had difficulty maneuvering due to the swift current and tight turns before the boat hit the snag and sank.

The trio were able to make it to shore but most of their belongings and all of their food floated away. They used a satellite phone to contact a relative, who called Alaska State Troopers.

The boat remains submerged at the accident site and may be recovered later in the summer when the water drops.

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