Troubled waters

William Baghoomian lassos the motor on an unmanned skiff with a stuck throttle while his neighbor Bill Breese steers on Friday in Tongass Narrows between Pennock Island and Berth 1. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Several civilians rescued a man from Tongass Narrows between Pennock Island and Berth 1 mid-Friday morning after onlookers saw his skiff spinning in circles.

Ketchikan Port and Harbors Port Operator Hammish Struthers noticed the boat while working on Friday morning.

"I was down on the port, working, and I was changing a trash can, and in my peripheral (vision), I saw a skiff spinning donuts out in the bay there between Pennock and Berth 1," Struthers told the Daily News on Friday, speaking about an hour after the rescue. "I was like, 'Wow, somebody's having fun out there.' But when I stopped and looked and I saw a head poking out of the water, and he was screaming for help."

Struthers said that after seeing no first responders coming to the area, he immediately dialed 911 and called for the U.S. Coast Guard.

A Coast Guard statement released later on Friday confirmed that USCG Base Ketchikan launched a 45-foot boat to respond to the situation.

But before the Coast Guard arrived on the scene, "a couple guys on a small skiff got out to the guy, pretty quickly from Pennock," Struthers said.

William Baghoomian, the owner of Alaska King Charters, was on Pennock when he heard the man shouting from the water.

"I heard a commotion and somebody yelling, 'The guy is in the water,' and then I just jumped in the skiff and got him," Baghoomian told the Daily News late Friday afternoon.

In the boat with Baghoomian was his neighbor, Bill Breese.

The men "weren't able to get him into the boat," Struthers said, and "dragged" him through the water to the ladder on Berth 1, said Struthers.

The men then took the rescued man back to his Pennock home, where Pat Breese, Bill's wife, met them with blankets and a heating pad for the man, who is the Breeses' neighbor.

But that wasn't the end of the response.

Baghoomian and Bill Breese returned to the accident scene to attempt to turn off the renegade skiff.

"Then the boat — the throttle or something was stuck, and it was still spinning donuts out there, and those guys and another boat went out and figured out a way to get it to stop," Struthers explained.

Aboard that other boat was Chad Chatham. He was on shore that morning heading for his boat to return to his home on Pennock when he heard about the man in the water, he told the Daily News.

The three men managed to stop the skiff.

"(I) went over there and the other guys that live on Pennock were headed out," Struthers explained. "They had a battle plan and (I) just helped them execute the battle plan and get the boat shut down.

"To my knowledge, the neighbors over there had already got him home, stripped down, hypothermic measures in place, and then they came back out with a plan to get the boat shut down. I just happened to be there to give them a hand."

"He's a lucky guy, that's for sure," said Chatham.

The boat engine was off and the operator was out of the water before the Coast Guard arrived. Ketchikan Police Department officers on shore also responded.

The Coast Guard issued a press release late Friday afternoon, stating that the USCG Sector Juneau Command Center received notice of the incident at 11 a.m. that day.

A U.S. Coast Guard public affairs officer told the Daily News that the boat was moving "slowly" because the area had a 7-knot speed limit, and the crew did not want to create a wake for the smaller skiffs responding to the situation.

"The station Ketchikan boat crew arrived on scene at 11:10 a.m.," the release read. "A good Samaritan and the Thomas Basin harbormaster had already rescued the person in the water. The boat crew remainded on scene while the harbormaster and the good Samaritan were able to get the unmanned skiff under control and moored to the pier."

"We are grateful for the good Samaritan, the Thomas Basin harbormaster, and the Ketchikan Police Department for their quick and effective response," Juneau command duty officer and Petty Officer First Class Jared Buchmiller said in a prepared statement. "When recreational vessel operators are unexpectedly ejected from their vessel, an engine shut off switch can stop the engine to prevent the vessel from colliding with the operator or nearby mariners."

Effective April 1, engine cut-off switches will be required for vessels less than 26 feet long.