Mac A. Stevens Jr., 08-11-97

By S.J. Kormarnitsky, ADN 8/12/97

Palmer ---A river guide drowned in front of some of his children Monday after being trapped underwater for several minutes in the icy Talkeetna River, Alaska State Troopers said.

Mac A. Stevens Jr., 42, a longtime river guide who worked for Talkeetna Riverboat Service, had no pulse when he was pulled from the river about 10:15 a.m.

He was still without a pulse several minutes later, but rescue crews were able to revive him during an ambulance ride from downtown Talkeetna to the Sheep Creek Lodge on the Parks Highway. Stevens then was flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, where he died several hours later.

How Stevens became trapped underwater was unclear.

Trooper spokesman Steve Wilhelmi said Stevens fell and hit his head as he was trying to dock the boat. He then was dragged underwater along with the anchor line, which he had wrapped around his hand. The boat started drifting downstream, taking Stevens with it, Wilhelmi said.

But others who work on the river believe Stevens might have been trying to grab the boat as it slipped away from shore and was pulled into the water.

"We're still really not sure what happened," said Pam Rannals, a family friend and bartender at the Latitude 62 lodge in Talkeetna. Stevens' father co-owns the riverboat service and the lodge.

Gerald Sousa, who runs Talkeetna River Guides, estimated Stevens had been underwater for about 10 minutes when one of his employees, who was heading upriver in a boat, saw people waving from shore near the river's junction with Clear Creek, a popular fishing spot.

"At first, he assumed they were people waving him down to be picked up," Sousa said. "He knew he didn't need to pick them up, but for some reason he decided to slow down and check it out."

As he got closer, he noticed the group, which included some of Stevens' four children, were waving in distress, Sousa said. Then he saw the boat drifting downstream in the main current.

When the employee nudged the boat with his own in an attempt to push it toward shore, Stevens popped to the surface, Sousa said.

The employee told him the anchor line was tightly wrapped around Stevens.

The employee immediately began CPR. A boat with Mahay's Riverboat Service then took Stevens to the boat launch in Talkeetna.

Rannals said Stevens has worked for the Talkeetna Riverboat Guides for more than 10 years. He was running the boat for clients, but happened to have his children along, she said.

The fast-running river has claimed lives before. In 1995, Pauline Spindle, 58, of Anchorage, died after she and four others were thrown out of a boat that capsized after hitting a submerged log. The next year, a 42-year-old South Korean woman was killed after the raft she and five others were riding in flipped on the turbulent river.