KETCHIKAN- An elderly cruise passenger took an unexpected swim in Ketchikan Creek late Wednesday morning, and was pulled from the water by a shirtless lumberjack.
Jake Justus performs at the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, a popular tourist attraction next to Thomas Basin at the mouth of Ketchikan Creek. He said Wednesday afternoon that the lumberjack crew was getting ready for the next show when a man came running over, asking whether they had a rope or a life jacket. Someone had fallen into the water.
Justus said he had a life jacket, so he grabbed it and the group ran over to the water's edge - part of an empty lot between the lumberjack show and the Fish and Wildlife floating dock - and looked down.
"The guy was clinging to the sea wall," Justus said, and the group was going to throw down the life vest.
However, he said, the stricken tourist appeared to need more than just a life jacket, so "I took off my boots and my shirt, put on the life jacket and swam over to him."
While Justus guided the tourist to the Fish and Wildlife dock, he said, other lumberjack show crew members - Andy Colle, Zach Brown, Matt Bolton and Jamie Whalen - grabbed a rope, got some towels and called 911.
Once the two swimmers made it to the dock, those waiting on the float pulled the unidentified man out of the water, Justus said.
"He seemed to be all right," he said. "He walked back to the (cruise ship)."
Justus said the water was pretty cold, and he was glad he hadn't yet changed into his show clothes when he took his unplanned dip.
"It was pretty wild," he said of the experience. "The lumberjacks came to the rescue."
Ketchikan Fire Department crews did respond to the scene, said Capt. Dave Breitkreutz, but by the time they got there, the only evidence that anyone had been in the water was some wet footprints leading away from the Fish and Wildlife dock.
Soon after the first 911 call, Breitkreutz said, another call came in reporting a body in the water. He said it wasn't clear whether that call was a separate incident, so response crews looked carefully for any kind of body in the water.
In addition to the fire department, he said, city police, Port and Harbors officials and the U.S. Coast Guard assisted in the search.
"We couldn't find anything," Breitkreutz said.
Justus said he didn't see anyone else in the water, either.