Experts on grief visit site of death
HOOPER BAY: In addition to drowning of teens, bodies not found to provide closure.
By TOM KIZZIA Anchorage Daily News
Published: September 13, 2005
Grief counselors have been flown into the Bering Sea village of Hooper Bay after the death of three high school students swept out to sea when their canoe capsized in the surf.
Only one body has been recovered since the Friday evening accident, as gale-force winds kept boats on shore Monday. Thirty-five searchers from Hooper Bay and nearby Chevak walked the beaches Monday looking for the missing bodies.
Killed in the accident were Clara Wilson, 15, Joseph Tomaganuk, 15, and Daylon Tall, 16. All three lived in Hooper Bay.
Witnesses told Alaska State Troopers the three youths were horsing around in a canoe in a local slough when the current caught and carried them into the surf at the river's mouth. Strong winds were blowing directly off the Bering Sea at the time, searchers said.
"It was not a good time to be out in the river," trooper Mike Roberts said.
One wave tipped the canoe sideways and then a second wave rolled it over, he said.
A fourth teenager had jumped out of the canoe as it pushed off in the shallows, feeling it was unsafe, Roberts said. He watched as the three disappeared underwater for seven to 10 seconds. They bobbed up and were drawn quickly out to the ocean, he told the trooper.
Two counselors from the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. were flown to the village Sunday from Bethel at the request of the local tribal government and the school, said YKHC behavioral health administrator Laura Baez.
None of the teenagers was wearing a flotation device, troopers said.
Failure to wear flotation devices also figured in other water accidents over the weekend in Alaska, two of them deadly, according to troopers.
• A hunter capsized his airboat on the west fork of the Maclaren River some 20 miles south of the Maclaren River Lodge about 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The lodge is along the Denali Highway, about 94 miles east of Cantwell. Frederick G. Haynes , 60, of Palmer was not wearing a life jacket when his body was found, troopers said.
• On the Kuskokwim River, Richard Vanderpool of Georgetown was found floating face-up on Sunday evening by hunters from Tuluksak. Though breathing at the time, he stopped breathing soon after and could not be revived. Vanderpool had been seen leaving Red Devil not long before, troopers said. He apparently fell from his boat and was not wearing a flotation device.
• Five Wasilla teenagers escaped death on the Little Susitna River on Saturday despite having no flotation devices. Eric Hershey, Jarrod Carney and Cody Hocking fell in the river when their raft overturned. The raft was grabbed by Jared VanKirk and Jacob Dortland, who were following in a canoe, but they struck a log jam in the river and capsized. The five youths, all of them 17, were able to get out of the river, cold and wet but uninjured, troopers said.
Campaigns to encourage use by rural Alaskans of flotation devices, helmets and other safety features have been credited with reducing accidental deaths among Alaska Natives. A study last year by the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research found that accidental deaths among Natives were down more than 40 percent in the past two decades. The accident rate is still twice as high as the rate for white Alaskans, however, and three times the rate for white U.S. citizens, the report said.
Hooper Bay, an unusually large Bush community of 1,123 residents, has been hit by a string of troubles in recent years, both from accidental deaths and suicides.
"Everybody's working on this as a community," Elias J. Stone, a local counselor, said Monday.
Roberts, the state trooper, said the two missing boys had been playing in the canoe, circling in the slough's choppy water, for as long as 45 minutes before the accident. They had gotten wet, gone home to change clothes, and returned, he said. Wilson had just climbed into the canoe moments before the accident, along with the fourth teenager, who jumped back out, Roberts said. A fifth teenager was also present, he said.
The youths were in the Akuliikuatuq River, he said. They paddled farther toward the mouth the last time and got caught in the current, which carried them into the breakers, he said.
Wilson's body was found floating about 200 feet offshore at 2:49 a.m. Saturday.
Daily News reporter Tom Kizzia can be reached at email@example.com or in Homer at 1-907-235-4244.