PHOTO BY JEFF LUND
Many of our stories in Alaska Sporting Journal provide you with tips and experiences for do-it-yourself Alaskan adventures. While having a guide is comforting, and, in many instances, more likely conducive to fishing or hunting success, there’s a freedom and peace of mind in doing your own research and catching that monster Chinook or bagging that Sitka deer.
But there are risks involved, even if you know the area, which two Lower 48ers apparently were when they traveled to the Petersburg area for a fishing trip.
Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen identified the men as 45-year-old Jonathan Comfort, of Clayton, Delaware, and Kenneth Rupprecht, 58, of Tamassee. She says they had plans to spend about a week in the area.
Troopers said the men had called police for help, but were found dead hours later after a major search according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
“These two gentlemen went to a lodge to do a self-guided fishing trip,” Ipsen said. “They have done this fairly often and know the area.”
Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert said Comfort and Rupprecht were in an 18-foot Lund skiff on Sumner Strait, north of the Level Islands and south of Kah Sheets Bay, when they went into the water.
They called the Petersburg Police Department shortly before 6 p.m.
“It looks like the people in the water had contacted PPD via cellphone for 45 minutes,” Eggert said. “They (said they) had (personal flotation devices), but no survival suits; the cellphone call cut out.”
The Coast Guard launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter to search for the skiff, with Alaska State Troopers in both Wrangell and Petersburg alerted to assist with the search. While a full shoreline search of the area was unsuccessful as of 10 p.m., troopers found the capsized skiff and the Jayhawk crew found a cooler it had been carrying.
At about 11 p.m., Eggert says the Jayhawk’s crew reported spotting the two men in the water near the overturned skiff.
“The MH-60 directed troopers to the location of the people; each was recovered and determined to be deceased,” Eggert said. “Neither of them were wearing a life jacket with personal locator beacons when found.”
The last paragraph stands out that the men were without a flotation device. No matter how many times you’ve done such a trip as the report suggests, it’s always wise to take every possible safety precaution in a place as unforgiving as Alaska.