Hooligan fisherman rescued from Turnagain Arm mud

a Girdwood mud rescue
Girdwood firefighters used specialized equipment to rescue a hooligan fisherman trapped in mud along the Twentymile River on Sunday, May 7, 2023. (From Girdwood Fire and Rescue)

Girdwood firefighters on Sunday rescued a hooligan fisherman stuck up to his waist in the Turnagain Arm mudflats. It’s their first save of the year from the quicksand-like flats, which can trap people in rising tides.

According to Girdwood Fire and Rescue, the man’s leg became stuck in the mud while fishing near the mouth of the Twentymile River. People at the scene tried to free him for about an hour before calling 911.

The call came in around 1:30 p.m. Sunday, said Girdwood Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Manch Garhart. He said it’s hard for someone to free themselves from the mud.

“If you are deeper than your knee, it’s very difficult to get out,” Garhart said. “The only way to, really, is to lean forward and kind of fulcrum your body to use the back of your heel to try to pop up and drive your heel up to break that suction.”

Responding fire crews used specialized rescue tools which can inject both air and water into the mud, freeing the man in just 14 minutes, Garhart said. The man, who has not been identified, was not injured.

Girdwood fire crews used the same gear in November to free a surveyor trapped in the mud along the arm, who was able to call for help with his cellphone. Firefighters recommend traveling in groups on the flats, however, due to spotty cell service.

Garhart said the nearby Seward Highway remained open throughout Sunday’s incident. The call was the department’s second in 2023 for a mud rescue. In the first call, the trapped person got out before fire crews arrived.

Sunday’s rescue, at the beginning of the summer tourist season, serves as a reminder of common safety tips for movement along the arm’s mudflats, said Garhart.

“We always say, ‘Don’t go past the grass when you’re on the mud;’ that’s going to be the safest spot to go,” Garhart said. “And then if you’re going to be out past the grass in the mud flats, don’t stand in one location and (be) moving back and forth. Any type of additional vibration or movement in one location will start to allow you to sink into that mud a little easier.”

Garhart also urged anyone who gets stuck to contact firefighters immediately.

“If you need help, call sooner than later, please,” he said.

a portrait of a man outside

Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him atcklint@alaskapublic.org.Read more about Chrishere.

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