U.S. Coast Guard helicopters flew Sitka divers to town on Thursday afternoon to search for the body of 58-year-old Juneau resident Al Kegler about 30 feet off the north coast of Lincoln Island.
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Kegler has been missing since his 16-foot skiff capsized in rough water a few minutes after noon on Wednesday.
He had just dropped off two female friends on a beach before motoring back into the shallow passage between Lincoln and Ralston islands, northwest of Shelter Island and due west of Herbert Glacier and Sentinel Island.
The Coast Guard suspended its search at 4 p.m. Thursday. Teams have searched the water as far north as St. James Bay, south through Lynn Canal and from Lincoln to Shelter islands. Ground crews also found no trace of Kegler on Lincoln, Ralston and Benjamin islands.
The Sitka divers remained at the scene early Thursday evening.
"Hopefully this will end (Thursday), and they'll find him," said Sgt. Robert Cox of the Alaska State Troopers. "If they don't, we'll have to re-evaluate and reassess. But hopefully they can recover him and put closure to this for the family and his friends and for everyone that's been searching."
The passage between Lincoln and Ralston islands is 20 to 30 feet deep. Kegler was trying to pass over a shoal to reach the lee (or west) side of Lincoln Island and find protection from the wind, Cox said.
Thirty feet from the beach, his skiff capsized. It's unclear whether it was struck by a rogue wave or hit a rock in the shoal, Cox said.
As his friends watched, Kegler fell underwater, Cox said. He tried to swim to the beach but did not make it. The woman saw him go under again. He never resurfaced.
Despite the poor cell phone coverage in the area, one of the women was able to place a call to the Coast Guard, Cox said.
The Coast Guard received the report at 12:57 p.m. Wednesday and sent out two of its rescue vessels.
Four Good Samaritan vessels, Alaska State Troopers, a TEMSCO helicopter and a Coast Guard helicopter from Sitka also have helped in the search between Lincoln and Ralston islands.
The two women were taken to Auke Bay by a Good Samaritan vessel after the accident. They returned Thursday to help with the search, Cox said.
Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search took two of its dogs to the area Thursday morning. Both of them "alerted" at the same spot 30 feet off the north side of Lincoln, Cox said. The dogs are trained to find people and cadavers in the water.
SEADOGS dropped a buoy to mark the spot where the dogs picked up a scent. Rescuers then contacted the Sitka divers. The Sitka team includes members of the Sitka Police and Sitka Fire departments.
"It is fairly shallow and I understand it was pretty rough yesterday," said Bruce Bowler, of SEADOGS. "That's why we were unable to get out there and dive (Wednesday), due to the weather."
Kegler worked for the state from February 1975 until his retirement from the Department of Environmental Conservation in Dec. 1999. During his time with DEC, he worked on a variety of environmental issues in the Juneau field office, was a key responder on the Exxon Valdez oil spill and specialized in water and wastewater issues.
The wind was blowing northwest up the channel toward Haines at the time of Kegler's accident, Cox said. There were four-foot seas.
"It was not a good idea to be out there in the skiff," Cox said. "I was out there in the helicopter looking for him (Wednesday) and it was pretty rough out there. The helicopter had a real good tailwind when we were heading north."
Korry Keeker can bereached at 523-2268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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