Boat fire leads to rescue: Nikiski skipper rescues Kenai family on Kachemak Bay

Posted: Friday, July 23, 2010

Halibut fishing on the cool waters of Kachemak Bay got a little hot Thursday morning when fire broke out on the Snake River Red, a 33-foot fiberglass pleasure craft from Kenai. It was one of three boating incidents that brought a response from nearby vessels, the U.S. Coast Guard and personnel in the Homer Harbormaster's office.

Photo Courtesy Joe Waligura
Photo Courtesy Joe Waligura
The USCG Buoy Tender Hickory approaches the Snake River Red as it burns off Seldovia Point. Tourist Joe Waligura of Leakey, Texas, took the photo while on a sightseeing tour with Homer Flyout Adventures.

Removed unharmed from the burning Snake River Red were the owner, Gregory Lindhartsen of Kenai; his wife, Gloria Adkins; their two grandsons under the age of 18; and Adkins' sister, Linda Mullens of Idaho.

"We were just en route to go halibut fishing and a fire started under the wheelhouse," said Adkins. "It wasn't very noticeable. Just a little smoke. But it went up pretty fast."

As they began to attack the fire with extinguishers, Adkins got off a mayday call.

"The Coast Guard answered, but then I had to go. I just had to deal with stuff," she said of her focus on fighting the growing fire.

The Coast Guard received the call of the Snake River Red being engulfed in flames about 13 miles west of Homer, at 10:50 a.m., according to Petty Officer Walter Shinn of Coast Guard Public Affairs in Juneau. An urgent marine information broadcast alerted other boats of the situation. A C-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Kodiak was diverted to the scene, and a fast boat from the USCGC Hickory, as well as the Hickory, responded.

Wasting no time, those onboard the Snake River Red battled the flames until the fire extinguishers were empty. Lindhartsen continued his firefighting efforts by throwing water onto the fire.

One of the youngsters was able to get on a life vest. The other, who had been sleeping inside the cabin at the time the fire broke out, was unable to do so.

"Our family is very safety conscious," said Adkins. "Nothing can prepare you to go through something like this, but everybody was very together."

Gathered at the stern of the vessel, the group saw boats headed their direction.

"It was really amazing how fast they got to us. At least three boats were out there quick," said Adkins. "The Happy Hooker got there very fast and in nothing flat they were getting us on board with them."

Once everyone was safety removed from the burning boat, the Happy Hooker, owned by Chimo Phillips of Nikiski, quickly pulled away and then delivered Lindhartsen, Adkins, their grandchildren and Mullens back to their pickup at the Homer Harbor.

As five left Homer for their drive back to Kenai, they could see what was left of the Snake River Red.

"We could see it still burning when we got to the top of Baycrest coming home," Adkins said. "It was amazing."

The vessel is reported to have had 150 gallons of diesel on board. No pollution was reported, according to Shinn. The cause of the fire is unknown at this time.

Earlier in the day, Gerald Paluck, owner of the 39-foot Northern Rebel, radioed a report that his pleasure craft was taking on water approximately seven miles off the Spit.

"He said he was taking on water, had a pump going and thought he was going to make it, but it was going to be touch and go," said Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins. "As the drama played out, the closer he got it sounded from the tone in his voice like it was getting more urgent."

Paluck continued toward Homer at about 7 knots, with Hawkins and crew aboard the USCGC Hickory monitoring his progress. The R/V Thunder, a research vessel based in Homer, began shadowing the Northern Rebel as it neared Homer.

"I asked (the Thunder's) captain what the condition was from his point of view and he said it was very low in the water by the bow and, in his opinion, was critical," Hawkins said.

Additional pumps were delivered to the Northern Rebel with the help Deputy Harbormaster Matt Clark; the Mulligan, one of Mako Haggerty's water taxis; and assistance from the Thunder.

With the pumps working full-time and the other vessels nearby, Paluck was able to safely reach the Homer Harbor under his own power.

At noon, a report of a vessel that had lost power also drew a response for the Harbormaster's Office.

"Someone towed them up to the harbor and then we went out and brought them in," said Hawkins.

The name of that vessel was not available. However, Hawkins confirmed no one on board had been injured.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at

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