Details emerge about Haines canoe accident that left guiding clients critically hypothermic

a lake on an overcast day
Chilkoot Lake (Alain d’Epremesnil/KHNS)

Two weekends ago, a canoe from a Haines guiding company took on water at Chilkoot Lake. Its seven passengers and two guides spent a substantial amount of time in the lake’s cold water as they swam to shore before being rescued.

Haines Fire Chief Brian Clay said the accident happened on a windy Sunday afternoon at the far end of lake. The group was on a canoe tour with Haines guiding company Alaska Mountain Guides.

“It was blowing probably 15, gusts to 25 up there,” said Haines Fire Chief Brian Clay, who was at the lake fishing with his granddaughter. “My understanding is they started taking on water and as it swamped, they couldn’t bail fast enough and it just swamped itself.”

As the canoe took on water, seven elderly passengers and two guides found themselves swimming for shore. All reportedly were wearing floatation devices, but they spent about 30 minutes in the glacier-fed lake before reaching shore.

Another boat front the guiding company reportedly picked them up from the beach and brought them to the parking lot, where Clay met them.

“They all had hypothermia, and three were critical,” he said. “Three were walking, or green as we say in our business.”

The three critical patients were sent by private vehicles to meet with ambulances on their way from town. The other four were escorted to the clinic in fire and police department vehicles.

At least five of the patients were later medevaced, according to Clay, and ambulance volunteers were busy late into the night shuttling those patients between the clinic and the airport.

Clay said once activated, the emergency response went smoothly. But the first call to 911 was directed to the wrong dispatcher.

“I believe the initial 911 call went to Fairbanks regional office for the sat phones, and they didn’t know where Chilkoot Lake was,” Clay said.

KHNS could not check directly on the health of the patients. The owner of Alaska Mountain Guides did not respond to multiple requests for comments.

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