By Jenny Neyman
Trouble came as a pair Sunday afternoon on the Kasilof River. Two kayakers flipped their boats around 4 p.m., followed shortly thereafter by a truck going for a swim at the boat launch just upstream from the Sterling Highway bridge.
Joshua Thompson, an engineer with Central Emergency Services, said no one was hurt in either incident. CES launched its rescue boat and picked up a female kayaker from the sand bar on which she’d ended up, while a drift boat reportedly retrieved her male companion. Thompson said the CES crew checked the scene at the boat launch but found no one in the water, as the owner of the truck was able to rescue himself.
Paul Gauthier lives about a mile and a half upstream from the bridge. He and a friend were doing some house painting when they spotted something odd floating downstream.
“What I saw was some movement, just another boat floating down the river. But my friend said, ‘What is that? It looks like ice.’ And I saw an inflaitable raft rowing after this thing. I said, ‘It looks like a cooler.’ Then I looked at it and said, ‘Oh, nope, it’s a kayak,’” Gauthier said.
They jumped in a car and drove downstream to a spot where they could access the bank. The raft had chased down the kayak, so Gauthier helped secure it to the raft. A guided drift boat floated by with the man who had been dumped from the kayak. The drift boat, the raft and Gauthier met up at the boat launch, where the kayaker — who was wet but uninjured — was reunited with his boat and thanked all involved. Neither Gauthier nor Thompson knew what happened to land the boaters in the water, but Gauthier said unplanned swims are not that unusual on the Kasilof.
“Just about every year you see a kayak go by, or a canoe or something. People are always dumping,” he said.
While they were hauling the kayak up the ramp, Gauthier spotted the next oddity of the day.
“I see a drift boat anchored way down, probably 100 yards down the river, and I’m thinking, ‘Why would somebody park their boat in the river?’ It’s anchored in the river, about 5 feet off the shore, unless they tried to land and missed it. And it turned out to be the guy’s truck,” he said.
A two-door pickup was lodged tailgate first against one of the bridge pilings, with water swirling up over the hood. The driver had been launching a drift boat when his truck slipped out of gear and the vehicle, trailer and boat all slid into the water. Thompson said the man was able to get himself back to shore.
“The guy jumped in the bed of the truck as it was going down the river, got to the bridge and he was able to unhook his boat and he was able to rescue himself,” Thompson said.
The truck is a different matter. As of Monday afternoon it was still at the bridge, with a handwritten sign now taped to a tree at the boat launch, saying, “Truck for sale. Cheap. Very clean. Won’t start. Engine’s flooded.” Thompson said it’s the owner’s responsibility to remove the vehicle, but didn’t think that it posed an immediate environmental danger.
“Most of that stuff’s self-contained, the oil and all that, as long as there’s no leaks or anything. The gas cap and all that will keep in usually. And it was submerged up over the hood a little bit,” Thompson said.
Gauthier thinks the removal of the truck might just be the strangest part yet of this occurrence, given the position the truck is in.
“There’s hydraulics going over that thing. Even if you could get a cable out there you’d never be able to hook it on. You’re going to have to go out there with some sort of a boat, snag that thing somewhere and then winch it out and away from the bridge and then crane it out or something. Boy, it doesn’t look like an easy one,” Gauthier said.