Heros unable to save life of young boy in boat capsizing

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

A 14-year-old Soldotna boy died Friday and three people survived after the fishing boat they were in capsized in the rough waters of Cook Inlet Thursday evening.

Samuel Gammon, the 14 year old, died early Friday morning at the Central Peninsula General Hospital, where he was taken after being plucked from the inlet along with two others who were in the boat. A fourth person swam one and one-half miles to shore in eight-to-ten-foot seas to get help.

Robert Eugene Halsey, 43, of Abilene, Texas, swam to shore Thursday and called 911 from the beach landing home of Laura Blanchard to report that his fishing skiff had capsized off the mouth of the Kasilof River at about 6:40 p.m. after becoming tangled in its own nets and being hit by high waves.

Halsey instructed his wife, Debbie Halsey, 48, and two family friends, William McVay, 20, of Abilene, and Gammon, to remain with the overturned boat while he went for help. All were wearing life preservers.

At 9:25 p.m., Alaska State Troopers received the 911 call and troopers, Central Emergency Services, the Civil Air Patrol, helicopters from ERA Aviation and Lifeguard Alaska, the Kenai Fire department and two private fishing boats responded.

David Blanchard launched his private skiff and found Debbie Halsey clinging to a marker buoy and brought her to shore where arriving CES personnel treated her before she was transported by Kenai Fire ambulance to CPGH.

The ERA helicopter then located McVay and Gammon and dropped two CES divers with an inflatable boat into the water. Gammon, who was unconscious, was picked up by Kasilof fisher Tim Osmar and transported to shore while two deckhands performed CPR. The two divers and McVay, who was conscious and hypothermic, were brought to shore by a CES rescue boat and McVay was taken by a waiting ambulance to CPGH.

CES Captain Tim Cooper, one of the divers, described Ronald Halsey's one and one-half mile swim for help as "astounding."

"The heroes are those who rescued the lady and the two boys," said Cooper. "It's amazing that the deckhands could perform CPR in those rough conditions. I have a lot of praise for the community people and ERA Aviation," said Cooper.

Gammon's parents were with him at the hospital when he was pronounced dead by the state medical examiner's office.

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