Theodore Prince, 07-11-05

Man dies attempting to wade across Yukon

OUT OF FUEL: After beaching skiff, pair tried to walk along shore.

By PETER PORCO, Anchorage Daily News, Published: July 13th, 2005
Accident Location
A St. Marys man drowned this week in the lower Yukon River after he and a friend tried to wade across the river and exhausted themselves in the cold water, Alaska State Troopers said Tuesday.

The man, Theodore Prince, collapsed on a sandbar and could not lift his head above the mud and water, troopers said.

Strong winds and alcohol, they said, played a part in Prince's downing Monday evening.

Prince, 24, and three friends, including two women, set out in a skiff from St. Marys on the Andreafsky River five miles above its confluence with the Yukon at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, according to the troopers.

They intended to travel to Emmonak, near the mouth of the Yukon, roughly 80 river miles away. Experienced boaters can make the trip in five to eight hours, depending on weather, water level and type of boat, said trooper Karl Main in St. Marys.

About 20 miles from Emmonak, however, the four became disoriented and headed up the Yukon's north mouth, away from the river's main channel. They managed to get reoriented and back on course, then decided they would spend the rest of the night at a fish camp and finish the journey the next morning, according to troopers.

At 10 a.m. Monday, the four set out again in the skiff for Emmonak. But they soon ran out of fuel. They managed to get the boat to shore and hauled out. They waved at passers-by, but no one stopped.

Main said boaters on the river will not necessarily see people on shore even if the site is fairly close to town. The skiff Prince and his friends were in was aluminum. Monday was overcast, with strong winds.

"A lot of things can get masked due to the reflection of the sky," Main said.

Cases of people intentionally declining to help others are virtually unknown, he said.

Prince and the others waited five hours. Then he and one of the women decided to walk the shoreline all the way to Emmonak to get gas. They were drinking vodka, Main said.

Based on interviews with Prince's companion, troopers said that two to three hours into their walk, Prince and the woman decided they would cross the river to walk on the other side. In some areas of the lower Yukon, sandbars make it possible to wade the river, the trooper said. But these can be unpredictable.

"The Yukon River is infamous for things that go in and don't come out," Main said. "There's hidden debris, sink holes, sudden drop-offs. ... The sandbars are constantly changing out here."

Even seasoned hunters and fishermen have fallen victim to the river.

"When something clouds your judgment, alcohol or drugs ... should it be even a simple incident, you put yourself behind the 8-ball," he said.

At one point, as Prince and the woman worked their way across, the bottom dropped off and they were in up to their waists, the troopers said.

"Due to the current, the female was taken downriver a little farther (than Prince)," Main said. The winds whipped down the river, and the water was cold. Prince and the woman yelled to each other that they needed to rest, according to Main. "They said the river was too deep."

They reached separate, shallow sandbars. Prince lay face down and soon was still.

"At that point, the female noticed he wasn't breathing," Main said. She got back into the water and went over to him. "She tried CPR," he said. "Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful."

Eventually, another boater spotted the others waiting on shore and took them, the woman and Prince's body to Emmonak, troopers reported.

In St. Marys, Prince was good to his family, Main said. "He did everything he could to help his parents out," he said.

Lois Moore, who works for the Emmonak Tribal Council, said she became friends with Prince after they met several years ago while traveling. She called him "free spirited."

"He was an outgoing person," Moore said. "He liked basketball, traveling, going out with friends. He liked to make people laugh; he always made them happy. He'd know if they were down. He'd always find some way to cheer you up."

Daily News reporter Peter Porco can be reached at or 257-4582.