Cook Inlet fishing-boat accident claims Soldotna teen

Mile-and-a-half swim by crew member summons rescuers

Posted: Sunday, July 14, 2002

ANCHORAGE - A 14-year-old Soldotna boy died early Friday after a commercial fishing skiff capsized in Cook Inlet.

Alaska State Troopers said Samuel Gammon was working as a crewmember on the 22-foot boat.

The skiff sank one and a half miles out in the inlet from the Kasilof River at about 6:40 p.m. Thursday, troopers said. A fishing net tow rope got caught around the propeller in rough waters. The boat tipped over when a large wave washed over the vessel as the crew tried to untangle the line, according to troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain.

Ronald Halsey, 43, of Abilene, Texas, swam a mile and a half to shore and called for help from a home at Mile 9.5 Kalifornsky Beach Road south of Kenai. He reported there were three others on board, including his wife, when the boat went down.

"I would not expect someone would be able to swim that length in Alaska waters," said Central Emergency Services Capt. Tim Cooper. "That he was able to keep going is amazing."

Troopers, Central Emergency Services, the Civil Air Patrol, Era Aviation helicopters and others searched the area for survivors. Also deployed was a private skiff owned by David Blanchard.

At about 10:40 p.m. Thursday, Blanchard found Halsey's wife, 48-year-old Debbie Halsey, clinging to a marker buoy. Ten minutes later, searchers in a helicopter found Gammon and 20-year-old William McVay of Abilene.

McVay was hypothermic but conscious. He was taken by ambulance to Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna, DeSpain said.

Gammon, who apparently drowned after he was weakened by hypothermia, was transported by helicopter to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 2:30 a.m. Friday, DeSpain said.

Debbie Halsey also was taken to the hospital. Late Friday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said the Texans had been treated and released.

Troopers said all were wearing life preservers at the time of the accident.

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