Editor’s Note: This story was updated with new information.
In an attempt to rescue a stranded boater Sunday night, four Central Emergency Services responders became stranded themselves before the five were rescued hours later.
CES received a distress call at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday from a boater, Eric Ohlson, 47, of Anchorage, who experienced engine failure on his 22-foot vessel on Upper Skilak Lake.
CES Health and Safety Officer Brad Nelson said the 22-foot rigid hull inflatable rescue boat was deployed from the Funny River fire station. With no natural light and high winds by the time the crew of four left the boat launch, the responders had limited visibility on the choppy water, he said.
“It seemed like an easy rescue at first,” he said. “(The crew) got out into the water and it was nasty and windy out there and the waves pushed them into rocks and they got stuck.”
The rescue boat ran aground near Caribou Island. Nelson said instead of risking another boat to get stuck in the rough conditions, Alaska State Troopers dispatched an aerial rescue through the Rescue Coordination Center.
Master Sgt. Armando Soria, a controller with the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center said they received notification from two separate personal locator beacons through their satellite notification system. The coordinates from the beacons plotted both points in the Skilak Lake area, according to a press release from the Alaska department of Military Affairs.
Troopers requested assistance from the Alaska Air National Guard, who accepted the mission at 7 p.m. and launched a Pave Hawk helicopter from the 210th Rescue Squadron and a HC-130 “King” aircraft from the 211th Rescue Squadron. Each had a team of Guardian Angels from the 212th Rescue Squadron on board, according to the release.
Ohlson contacted authorities after his boat’s engine jammed, which rendered his vessel out of control. The wind blew his boat across the lake in waves up to six feet high, Soria said in the release.
All five were rescued uninjured by about 10:15 p.m. The Pave Hawk picked up Ohlson and brought him to shore first before returning to pick up the CES crew, who were stranded about a half-mile from the Ohlson, according to the release.
By the time the rescue crew arrived, the winds had blown both boats to the shoreline, which allowed the Pave Hawk to land nearby and pick up the five men, according to the release.
The rescue boat was retrieved by CES Monday morning.
Nelson said because most boaters have put their vessels away for the winter, the rescue boat was stored at the Funny River station, which added to the response time. The CES crew built a campfire to keep warm while they waited to be rescued.
“They got to hang out there for and camp for the night,” he said.