Hoonah mariner honored for rescue

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2001

Hoonah resident Alf Skaflestad, who celebrated his 93rd birthday Saturday, makes little of the fact that he rescued two men off Hoonah early this month.

But the U.S. Coast Guard took note.

During his birthday party Skaflestad received an Operational Excellence medallion, accompanied by a letter signed by Rear Adm. T. J. Barrett. Barrett wrote if Skaflestad had not been there, the two men would have succumbed soon to hypothermia.

"I didn't even get their names. I was just interested in getting them out of the water and safe into town," Skaflestad said Friday. "I have heard they were in the water about two and a half hours."

Two men were in a skiff near Burnt Point on July 1 when they swamped. Hoonah Harbormaster Paul Dybdahl said the men, Ron Roberts and Bill Koenig, were ready to give up hope.

"It was fortunate Alf was in the neighborhood," Dybdahl said. "He's a tough old bird."

Weather conditions were sneaky July 1, Skaflestad said.

"Wind was coming from the Northwest. We call it a 'water wind.' It's down low and causes small, black tide rips. I happened to be fishing there, and their skiff was already upside down," he said.

"I couldn't see the men between the rips at first, because they were submerged up to their necks. But one guy climbed up by the bow so his chest was sticking out and took off his life vest and waved it in the air. That's the only way I saw him."

He calls the rescue "no big deal."

"You are more than glad to help people if there's any possible chance (of saving them)," he said.

Skaflestad spends a lot of days fishing in his 23-foot boat, the Kliana, and often gives away his catch, Dybdahl said.

Skaflestad's birthday was July 23, but his son Erling and daughter-in-law Bonnie and the rest of the clan held his party Saturday for 80 relatives and friends, including Roberts and Koenig.

Skaflestad was born in Norway, and emigrated to the United States at age 16.

"I came into Southeast Alaska in 1928, and have been off and on into Hoonah since 1934," he said. He and his wife ran a logging company for 35 years, furnishing pilings and float logs for canneries.

The birthday party Saturday was half of a two-day family reunion which continues today with a picnic at Fresh Water Bay, Bonnie Skaflestad said.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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