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Wind-felled tree injures man

Gale keeps two cruise ships from reaching Skagway

Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

A Gustavus man was seriously injured Monday when a tree, knocked over by high winds, struck him while he was walking with friends on a beach in Glacier Bay National Park.

Meanwhile, gale winds in Skagway turned back two cruise ships Monday, as a short but intense storm moved over Southeast Alaska.

John Coors, 24, of Gustavus, and three friends had been kayaking in Dundas Bay in the national park when they stopped on the beach for a hike around 1:40 p.m., said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Scott Wilwert.

John Roberts, a medic on the Coast Guard cutter Mustang, which launched the search and rescue operation for Coors, said the men had been walking about a mile into the woods in a single-file line when the tree struck Coors from behind.

"They said it came out of nowhere," Roberts said. "(Coors) was in the lead and at first they thought the guy behind Coors had been hit too, but he ducked just in time and Coors wasn't so lucky."

The tree struck Coors on the left side of his body, breaking his arm and wrist, rupturing his spleen, puncturing his lung, and fracturing a vertebrae, Wilwert said.

Coors' friends radioed for help on a handheld VHF radio, Wilwert said. Roberts said they carried their friend three-fourths of the way back to the beach so rescuers could spot them, but had to set Coors near a fallen tree because he was in too much pain to go further.

The cutter Mustang, en route to Juneau at the time of the call, went to the area. The cutter used a smaller boat to get into the bay and assist Coors. Roberts said rescuers had to use whistle calls to find the men, who were a quarter-mile into the woods.

Roberts and two other medics attended to Coors, who was suffering from the beginnings of hypothermia. They put him on a litter and constructed a makeshift shield of medical tape and a plastic bag to keep the rain off him.

After walking through a river and in muddy, sloped terrain, the rescuers gingerly put him in the small boat. They were going to wait for a helicopter transport from the beach, but it would take too long and Coors was going into shock, Roberts said, so they risked rough 4-foot seas to get help to him quicker. Once he was back on the Mustang, a helicopter crew airlifted him to Sitka Community Hospital.

Information about his condition wasn't immediately available today.

Yakutat bore the brunt of the storm, with 6.5 inches of rain in two days, said National Weather Service forecaster Michael Mitchell. The Alsek River 25 miles south of Yakutat swelled to the highest level seen since the Weather Service started tracking it in 1990.

The Kahtaheena Creek between Gustavus and Excursion Inlet is about a foot higher than the previous record, and the Taiya River in Skagway is within 3 inches of overflowing its banks.

Juneau received 1.73 inches of rain at the National Weather Service building on Back Loop Road and 1.25 inches at the airport, mostly within six hours.

"It fell very rapidly; it was intense rainfall," Mitchell said.

The wind reached 40 mph at the Federal Building and 45 mph on Old Dairy Road.

The strongest winds were in Skagway, where it blew up to 47 mph and gusted up to 59 mph. That was enough to keep the cruise ships Legend of the Seas and Infinity out of Skagway, said Don Habeger of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska. The Infinity holed up in Haines instead before continuing on its regular itinerary to the Hubbard Glacier today. Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas came down to Auke Bay, then moved to the downtown dock for its regularly scheduled Juneau stop today.

"It's just one of those mother nature issues," said Michael Sheehan, spokesman for Royal Caribbean.

The Ryndam also was in Auke Bay on Monday, but because of mechanical problems, not weather. After those were fixed the Ryndam skipped its scheduled voyage to Glacier Bay because of the weather, and instead headed south to Tracy Arm. The Ryndam is back on schedule in Ketchikan today.

The Weather Service buoys reported seas of 14 feet, and up to 155 feet at the Fairweather Grounds. Few boats were out to feel it though, said Mitchell.

By 6 p.m. the storm had died down and was heading south.

"It's over Ketchikan now, but it surely has weakened," Mitchell said this morning. "It didn't really make it south of Frederick Sound."



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