Illinois man dies after becoming trapped on mud flats near Hope

coastal area with mud and receding water near the mountains
A section of coastal area near Hope, as seen from the Gull Rock Trail in 2020. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

A 20-year-old Illinois man drowned Sunday after he became trapped in the Turnagain Arm mud flats near Hope, Alaska State Troopers said.

Troopers spokesperson Austin McDaniel said Zachary Porter was walking with his friends on the flats, when he sunk up to his waist in the mud, near Mile 11 of the Hope Highway. One of his friends immediately called 911 at 5:52 p.m.

“Bystanders in the group attempted to rescue Porter before first responders arrived on scene,” McDaniel said in an email.

Girdwood fire crews and two air ambulances were also called to assist local responders at 6:13 p.m., said Girdwood Fire Chief Michelle Weston. But the Girdwood Fire Department is about 45 miles away, and the rescue crews didn’t arrive until 6:58 p.m.

“Unfortunately, before we arrived on location, the individual was submerged,” Weston said. “And then we were able to help with the recovery efforts this morning.”

Troopers said Porter was “submerged by the incoming tide” and died at approximately 6:43 p.m.

One man who tried to save him was flown to Anchorage with hypothermia, said troopers.

Emergency responders often warn about travel on the unpredictable and quicksand-like mud flats, which can trap people in rising tides.

It’s been 34 years since someone died after becoming stuck in the mud flats, the Anchorage Daily News reported. But there have been many rescues. 

Porter’s death comes two weeks after fire crews saved a hooligan fisherman from the mud near the mouth of the Twentymile River. Firefighters also saved a surveyor trapped up to his waist near Tidewater Slough in November. Both rescues involved the use of a special tool, which can inject air and water into the mud around a person.

Weston said mud rescues can take 10 to 30 minutes, so getting help quickly is crucial.

“There needs to be a threshold of time between when someone’s stuck to when the crew gets there and arrives and then for the crew to actually work to get the person unstuck,” she said. “And it’s a race, usually, against what the tide is doing.”

Weston said Sunday’s call highlights the dangers of the mud flats.

“Know that tides move very quickly in Turnagain Arm,” she said. “And then additionally, that ground you might have walked on the last time you visited a location might be totally different the next time.”

If you are traveling on the mud flats, Girdwood firefighters caution people to go in groups, so someone can get help if anyone gets trapped. People should also avoid staying in one spot for too long.

Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Chris here.

Previous articleMat-Su educators vote to strike
Next articleFormer top aide to mayor challenged Anchorage election using policy quietly added that day by city IT director