Seven-year-old girl drives boat for help, but in vain

Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A 7-year-old girl who saw her father and grandfather fall from their boat and disappear beneath the waters of a lake near Glennallen managed to drive the boat to shore, walk a half-mile across wet, brushy shoreline and summon help, the Alaska State Troopers say.

But the girl's efforts were in vain.

Robert Mills, 34, and Rocky Mills, 55, drowned in Sunday's accident on Susitna Lake. Their bodies were found about nine hours later within an arm's reach of one another in 25 feet of water, troopers said.

''She's a tough little girl,'' said Alaska state park ranger Mike Goodwin, one of several people who had searched for the men.

The men had some high-quality flotation vests in the boat but were not wearing them, troopers said, The girl was wearing hers.

The name of the girl and her hometown were not immediately available. The men were from Oregon.

The group had fishing gear ready but were not using it. About 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the men leaned over the side to look at something in the water, causing the boat to tip, troopers said. Both fell in.

''For a period of time, the girl tried circling the boat around to get to them'' but didn't know how to do it, trooper spokesman Tim DeSpain told the Anchorage Daily News.

It was unclear how long the men remained on the surface.

''The young girl was a little fragmented in her story,'' Goodwin said.

The men disappeared, and the girl headed for shore.

''She said her father had showed her how to run the boat in the past,'' Goodwin said. ''She was able to motor the boat a half-mile to shore to get help.''

The girl beached the boat in a swampy area beside a dock and walked to a nearby cabin. No one was home, so the girl headed to another cabin where her family had been staying and where there was a woman who apparently was a friend of her father, Goodwin said.

When the call for help was broadcast on the local radio channel, a resident took his boat out and found hip boots and three caps floating in the water, Goodwin said.

The bodies were found barefoot. They probably took off the boots when they filled with water as the men struggled to stay afloat, he said.

Goodwin happened to be in the vicinity. State troopers also responded. Goodwin, a trooper and the girl went out in a boat to where the girl thought the men fell in.

''She was able to recall where, and we marked that as well,'' he said.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Dive Team headed straight for the area between the places where the girl said the men went under and where the boots and caps were found, about 100 yards away.

''The men were found halfway between those markers,'' Goodwin said.

The deaths conform to statistics about Alaska boating fatalities, park ranger Monty Smith said.

''The PFDs were in the boat,'' Smith said. ''That doesn't do you any good when you're in the water. Nine out of 10 of our drowning victims don't have PFDs on.''

Neither alcohol nor foul play was suspected, troopers said.

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