State senator's boat burns, sinks

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A boat owned by state Sen. John Cowdery caught fire near Whittier, and he and three passengers were rescued by a Good Samaritan vessel.

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Tory Freeman said he and a friend were finishing a day of fishing Wednesday night when they heard a report over the radio of a boat in trouble. They saw Cowdery's boat, a vessel more than 40 feet long, and smoke billowing from it.

"The cabin was totally filled with like this really thick, white smoke; it was like an electrical fire," Freeman said.

"John Cowdery ... stuck his head out of the cabin, and we yanked him out of there."

The fire began on a boat called the Johnita about 6:40 p.m. on the southwest side of Esther Island, said U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Barry Lane.

Freeman and Jeff Ohman spent Wednesday bottomfishing near Whittier. Ohman said they were headed home when they passed Cowdery's boat and saw smoke.

They thought it was just heavy exhaust, but two or three minutes later, they heard the mayday call over the radio. They turned Ohman's new 22-foot Hewescraft around to help.

"The boat was engulfed in smoke like you see in a house fire," Ohman said.

Cowdery, R-Anchorage, told the fishermen that he had just filled the boat with fuel, Freeman said.

After the senator and his passengers boarded the Good Samaritan boat, they left for Whittier and watched as the Johnita erupted in flames, Freeman said.

Another boat in the area reported that the boat had sunk.

The Coast Guard is investigating.

It was not the first time one of Cowdery's boats has sunk.

On his personal Web site, Cowdery writes that he bought a 50-foot-plus pleasure boat around 2000 and named it Johnita II. One of Cowdery's staff members got married on that vessel, he wrote.

Whittier harbormaster Mike Davidson said the Johnita II sank in the winter of 2000 or 2001 at the Whittier dock but was recovered and repaired.

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