Man drowns in Mat-Su lake after canoe capsizes

A 23-year-old man drowned Saturday evening in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough after a canoe carrying three people capsized, Alaska State Troopers said.

According to an online dispatch, word that Devon Betker was presumed dead on Finger Lake, between Palmer and Wasilla, reached troopers just after 7 p.m. Saturday. Troopers, medics and the Mat-Su Borough Water Rescue Team responded to the lake.

“Investigation revealed three adult males were paddling a canoe out to an island when they capsized in approximately 20 feet of water,” troopers said. “The two males who were paddling were able to cling onto the overturned canoe until another boat stopped to pick them up, but (Betker) slipped below the surface, and they lost sight of him.”

Troopers spokesman Justin Freeman said in an email Monday afternoon that troopers had ruled out alcohol as a factor in the capsize, but that nobody in the canoe had or was wearing a personal flotation device. The survivors told troopers that Betker didn’t immediately go under.

“Betker was initially seen on the surface and said something to his friends about ‘not making it,'” Freeman said.

Betker’s body was recovered at about 8:30 p.m. that night, troopers said. His family was present. Freeman said troopers are urging all Alaska boaters to wear a flotation device “any time they are on the water.”

Saturday’s boating death comes two weeks after the sinking of a Sitka fishing charter left four people dead and a fifth still missing, devastating a family visiting Alaska.

A recent state health report says Alaska has the nation’s highest rate of drownings, with consistently high rates for the last six years. Elevated risk factors include sporadic use of flotation devices, cold water that can kill even strong swimmers and remoteness that can hamper rescue efforts.

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

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