A medical technician with the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department died when a boat taking her to a medevac mission went hard aground, Sitka police said Wednesday.
Molly Ahlgren, a longtime fisheries professor at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, died in the accident on Gavanski Island shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Ahlgren, 47, and another medical technician were on their way to a small island in the nearby Siginaka Islands after an Alaska State Troopers recruit cut his finger severely during a survival training exercise, said Sitka Police Chief Bob Gorder. They were aboard the Amy Nicole, a 31-foot private vessel whose owner offered to help in the rescue.
Coast Guard officials said they picked up a mayday distress call at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday stating the Amy Nicole was aground. The Coast Guard sent two helicopters from Air Station Sitka to investigate.
Ahlgren had been standing in the boat when it went aground, throwing her forward, Gorder said. Ahlgren died at the scene.
"It's just a crying shame," Gorder said.
The other technician was treated at Sitka Community Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, according to Gorder. The Amy Nicole's operator was treated for minor injuries and released. Authorities were not releasing their names.
Another boat in the area picked up the injured trooper recruit, Gorder said.
Sitka police and the Coast Guard are investigating.
The news of Ahlgren's death spread quickly and a community memorial was being planned for Monday, said Art Cleveland, president of Sheldon Jackson College. Ahlgren - an associate fisheries professor in Sheldon Jackson's environmental science program - taught there for 14 years. She was highly valued in fisheries circles, Cleveland said, and in the last three years her teaching salary was partly underwritten by the At-Sea Processors Association.
"She was such an integral part of our program in fisheries," he said. "She was just a phenomenal person. Students thought so highly of her. Everyone is in such shock."
In mid-November, Ahlgren became the new president of the Alaska chapter of the American Fisheries Society, a nonprofit national organization of fisheries professionals promoting fishery resources conservation.
"People are taking this hard," said Ray Hander, Alaska chapter treasurer. "She was one of those people with endless amounts of energy."