ANCHORAGE - A kayaker who was thrown into Turnagain Arm and swept along by its strong currents caught a lucky break when an Alaska State Trooper helicopter happened to be close by.
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Sean Hickey, 19, found himself in trouble Sunday afternoon. He had been kayaking with a friend when he got caught in a bore tide that catapulted him from his boat.
Hickey wore a dry suit on the upper half of his body. But the rushing, frigid water quickly caught and dragged him into a whirlpooling channel, away from his companion and his kayak.
Around that same time, high above the churning water, trooper Bryan Barlow was riding in a rescue helicopter, scanning the Inlet. He'd been busy all afternoon with false alarms. First there was a report of people stranded on a sandbar near Indian, which turned out to be driftwood.
Then he'd been sent to a second Turnagain Arm call near Portage, which turned out to be no big deal.
He was headed home when a call came in from a trooper on the highway who had spotted a kayaker towing an empty boat. The kayaker said someone was in the water, lost in the current.
Barlow turned the chopper around and made a pass over the arm near Bird Flats. In the silty water, he zeroed in on a man waving frantically.
"He was a half mile from the shore, out in one of the channels, flowing pretty quick. The tide was really running," Barlow said.
The helicopter positioned itself above the man in the water, hovering low and plucked him to safety. Hickey had been in the cold water more than 10 minutes.
The current had torn the clothes from the lower half of his body, Barlow said.
Hickey was treated by an ambulance crew for hypothermia.