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Alaska fisherman spends 24 hours adrift in fish bin; then, rescue

September 12, 2012|By Kim Murphy

SEATTLE — A 19-year-old fisherman whose boat capsized in the chilly waters of southern Alaska floated for more than 24 hours in a 4-foot plastic fish tub, singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to keep his spirits up during an anxious night.

Ryan Harris was finally rescued from his battle with 8-foot waves by a Coast Guard helicopter, which had joined a massive search of the waters around Sitka, Alaska, for Harris and his crewmate, Stonie Huffman, the Sitka Daily Sentinel reported.

Huffman survived, too, though he didn’t have a bin in which to float. Instead, he was able to don a buoyant survival suit, grab on to the lid of one of the fishing bins, and battle the crashing waves to head toward shore.

“It’s truly a miracle they survived,” Sitka Mountain Rescue director Don Kluting told the newspaper.

The two men had set out for a routine day of fishing for coho salmon when they were hit with twin problems: a failed hydraulics system and high waves crashing around their aluminum boat.

Just as they managed to make repairs to the hydraulic system, the boat went down a steep wave that dumped a deluge of water in the bow of the boat. Almost immediately, a second large wave hit the stern, and the two men found themselves in the water, with the boat going down.

Huffman helped Harris climb into a bin, but he couldn’t get in one himself, instead grabbing onto a lid of one of the bins and struggling into a survival suit that was drifting nearby. With waves reaching 8 feet, it took him two hours to get into the suit, and by that time, the two men were no longer in view of each other.

“I gave myself a pep talk,” Harris told the Sentinel. “'I’m Ryan Hunter Harris, and I’m not going to die here.'” Having to stay awake and alert to keep the tiny tub from tipping in the high waves, Harris sang “Row Your Boat” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” as well as other songs, to pass the long hours of darkness.

“I never thought I was going to die, but I was worried about Mac,” he said.

The men had departed the boat without radios or cellphones, but friends and family launched a search when they failed to return.

Huffman was spotted first — waving from a beach at Point Amelia at a boat carrying Alaska State Troopers.

Joel Brady-Power, aboard a private vessel,  spotted Harris in the tote, “waving frantically,” and a Coast Guard helicopter hoisted him aboard.

“I’m glad to be here,” he said.

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