Skiff capsizes from ferry Columbia’s wake in Wrangell Narrows

A video posted to YouTube shows the Columbia dispatching one of its lifeboats in response to the incident. (Screenshot)

A wake from the Alaska state ferry Columbia caused a small skiff to capsize in the Wrangell Narrows near Petersburg. The event happened Sunday at about 7:30pm. Three people in the skiff were rescued by a nearby boat before the ferry’s lifeboat reached the scene. No injuries have been reported to the state, and the water was apparently shallow enough to stand in. 

Ginger Pellerito filmed part of the incident from Island Point on Kupreanof Island. She told KSTK’s June Leffler she started filming when the Columbia made the unusual move of stopping in the middle of the Narrows. 

“All of a sudden we saw people scrambling around on the top throwing life jackets in the little lifeboat,” Pellerito said. “And then they were getting in and starting to descend the lifeboat. And then we knew something was going on.”

The ferry was sailing north toward Petersburg and the event occurred about ten miles south of town in a particularly narrow part of the channel. It’s also a busy stretch of water, due in part to several nearby lodges that rent out fishing boats.

According to U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Scott McCann, the boat involved was operated by Rocky Point Resort on Mitkof Island.

Rocky Point Resort declined to comment for this story.

Alaska Department of Transportation spokesperson Aurah Landau says events like this one are uncommon. She says crew on the ferry witnessed the incident while on routine watch duty. 

“The Marine Highway System has crew on watch at all times while underway to keep a proper lookout and has even more diligence in a narrow channel like the Wrangell Narrows,” Landau said. “The crew member saw it happen and immediately reported it to the bridge.”

Landau says the Columbia launched a lifeboat and reported the incident to the Coast Guard. She says AMHS is continuing to work with the Coast Guard to investigate the incident.

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