Teen fished from river after falling off boat

Youth was being swept toward propellers when thrown a rope

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2005

When young adults come to Alaska for summer fishing work, few come only for a paycheck.

Many come looking for excitement on the high seas and adventure in the salty air. They don't come looking for a near-death experience.

Yet that's just what Jacob Lethin, 17, had early last week, when the Virginia-based teen fell overboard from the commercial fishing vessel Petrel he's been working on as a deckhand for the last few weeks.

"It was scary as hell," Lethin said.

As he tells it, it was late in the evening, almost midnight, in the Kenai River where his boat had come in to offload its haul for the day last Monday. There was little light in the sky overhead and underneath the boat the dark water was rushing by cold and fast.

"I reached down for a board and slipped on a rope. I hit the deck and then was in the water before I even knew what happened," Lethin said.

"I was 50 yards downstream before I could yell. I was cold and in shock."

To make matters worse, several drift boats were tied together as they typically do for the evening, but they had their motors running to jog against the swift current.

Lethin was headed right in between them — where he could potential be caught in the spinning propellers of the boats.

Fortunately for Lethin, Loren Marks — a Pacific Star Seafoods employee — was there fulfilling his normal duty of bringing fisherman back and forth between their vessels and the dock on shore via a skiff.

"I was parked by a set of stairs with the motor running when I saw something bobbing by in the water," Marks said.

At first he thought it was seal, but then realized it was a person and flew into action.

"I saw it was a kid going out fast with the tide. He looked scared and was calling for help," Marks said.

Marks gunned the motor on the skiff and sped across the water to Lethin.

"I threw him the bow line and tried to help him into the boat. My adrenaline was really going, and within a few seconds, it was all over," Marks said.

Lethin had made it into the skiff, safe and sound.

"I own my life to the guy. I don't know what more there is to say," Lethin said.

As for Marks, he said he's never seen anything like that happen in the three years he's worked for Pacific Star and hopes he never sees it happen again.

Marks said he didn't think anyone was to blame for the incident. He just chalked it up as a freak occurrence.

"Accidents happen," he said

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