Fishermen, dog OK following nearly half hour in inlet water

Posted: Sunday, June 11, 2006

Fifty-year-old Rodney Seaman has been in blizzards and been out in the cold of winter before, but he’s never been as cold as he was for the 20-30 minutes he spent in Cook Inlet wondering if he would be rescued.

Seaman, the owner and operator of Salmon Run Lodge in Cooper Landing, was out with four buddies fishing for early season halibut off Ninilchik Tuesday when their boat was swamped.

After catching five or six 30-pounders, the five men were easing their way back in when “in nothing flat, we were going down,” said Seaman from his lodge on Thursday.

It happened so fast, he is not exactly sure, but believes he just got caught between swells.

All five men and Seaman’s 3-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, Adley, survived the ordeal.

“My buddy Chris ... I don’t even know his last name; he’s from Anchorage ... was wearing a float coat and when we realized we weren’t floating anymore, I went to the front and got the (life) jackets for everyone else,” Seaman said.

The 20-foot open Willie Predator river boat they were in went down.

“We got (the life jackets) on and started swimming in. No one’s cell phone was working anymore,” he said.

The men saw several boats going by, but the boats were too far off to see the swimming fishermen.

Then another boat saw the men and put out a radio call for help.

Two charter fishing boats — Bottom Line Charters out of Ninilchik and Hooksetters — raced to the scene and managed to get all five men out of the water.

Jim Russo, captain of the Bottom Line Charters vessel, said he heard a radio call that five people were in the water off Ninilchik.

“Hooksetters out of Kenai made the call and I knew I was alongside them ... about three miles away,” Russo said.

When Russo’s boat arrived on the scene, about two miles from shore, the crew first spotted a man floating on an oar.

Seaman estimates they were in the water about 30 minutes.

“It was about 3 o’clock when we headed in, and it was about 10 minutes later when we went into the water,” he said.

“They said it was 3:40 when they got us on shore.”

“They say you only have about 20 minutes in that water, so I knew our time was running out,” he said when asked if he thought they would make it.

“We’re all in pretty good shape and we just kept swimming, so I think that did some good.

“There was a few times I lost perspective ... I felt I was warming up once. That’s not good,” Seaman said.

“Jim’s 72; he’s the oldest, but he’s in good shape,” he said of friend Jim DeBuer. The other fishermen were Scott Johnson, 51, and Doug Elliott, who Seaman said is about the same age.

The Hooksetters vessel picked up Seaman and DeBuer; Bottom Line Charters rescued the others.

At first, Seaman’s dog, Adley, was swimming along with the men, but he said he saw her heading toward shore.

“I thought we had lost her. I was pretty upset,” he said.

The dog apparently made it all the way to shore, though she was carried a few miles down the beach by the outgoing tide.

Volunteers searching on the beach found her and brought her to Marine Services in Ninilchik, where the men had been taken at first.

By then, however, Ninilchik Emergency Medical Services responders had taken the men to their fire station where they were warmed up. They did not need any other medical treatment.

“Ninilchik EMS called us later and said they had the dog. We went back down there that same day and got her,” Seaman said.

Seaman, who operates the Cooper Landing lodge with his wife, Becky, has three children, a daughter in Wasilla, and two boys in Colorado.

The family winters in Colorado and this is the sixth year the Seamans are operating Salmon Run Lodge.

When asked about losing the boat — which is insured — Seaman said it is unimportant.

“After being out there like that ... I’ve never had an experience like that before.”

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