Boy Scouts from Alaska gather around an impromptu memorial set up at the site of an electrical accident that took the lives of four scout leaders and a contractor employee seeting up a dining tent at the National Boy Scouts Jamboree in Virginia. Boy Scout Chris Frenier wrote and delivered a eulogy to the fallen leaders.
Photo courtesy Nels Anderson
A Soldotna physician said he was helpless to do anything when four Boy Scout leaders from Alaska electrocuted at the national jamboree in Virginia.
Dr. Nels Anderson, who was serving as a volunteer in the scout’s medical sub-camp, was on the scene of the July 25 tragedy in less than a minute, but electricity was still flowing through a tent pole that touched power lines killing the four men, and no would-be rescuers could go near.
“One of the kids came running, yelling, ‘Medic! Medic!’” Anderson said.
Anderson and two other doctors Jeff Axel, a cardiologist, and Greg Lortz, an emergency room doctor were under their medical-camp canopy 150 feet away.
“When we ran down there, Jeff was in front, and when he got to the tent, the hair on his arms stood up,” Anderson said.
Axel yelled for the others to stay back, as electricity was still sparking four feet up the tent pole from the ground where the victims lay.
Two were still in contact with the pole and two were about 18 inches away, Anderson said. The two touching the pole were on fire.
“Knowing the people, knowing you want to get them out. You just feel powerless,” Anderson said.
“All we could do was stand and watch,” said the family practice physician who has been involved with scouting for 50 years.
It would be 20 minutes before the electricity was shut off. Anderson and the others knew it would be a death sentence for the downed men.
When the power was turned off, the doctors tried to resuscitate their comrades, but to no avail.
“We had some really good, trained medics who responded, too,” Anderson said. “They got there really fast.”
Following the accident, a fifth man, a local contractor who had been hired to assist in erecting the large mess tent that was to be used by the three Alaska scout troops, died in the hospital.
According to Anderson, the contractor’s employee had survived the initial shock and was upright and shortly afterward was walking, though off balance.
The amount of damage done to his body, however, was indicative of the amount of electricity present as the doctors arrived, Anderson said.
Following his return to Alaska, after an incident like the one in Virginia, he replays the events in his mind, Anderson said Monday.
“You look at everything you did or could have done,” he said.
In his profession, Anderson said he frequently sees death.
“Sometimes it’s inevitable, even a blessing.
“Sometimes it’s not expected.
“Does that affect you? You bet it does,” he said.
Another Alaska scout leader who was helping erect the mess tent Dr. Larry Call, an Anchorage dentist also had been knocked down by the electric jolt.
“His son, Kendall, reached in to pull him away, and because it was so hot and his hands were sweaty, they slipped off, but not before he pulled Larry enough (to break contact with the pole),” Anderson said.
Dr. Call’s feet had been in touch with the energized tent pole, and because of the efforts of his son, his injuries were limited to burns on both feet.
Kendall Call was not injured.
During an assembly of the 75,000 scouts and scout leaders attending the Jamboree, one week following the tragedy, Kendall Call was presented with a Boy Scout Lifesaving Award.
The assembly was attended by President George W. Bush, who invited Kendall and his family to visit with him for a half hour, according to Anderson.
During the week following the tragic accident, Anderson and the other volunteer doctors treated hundreds of scouts for heat exposure as the mercury in Bowling Green, Va., surpassed the 100-degree mark and the humidity remained high.
Of the 120 or so Alaska scouts and leaders who attended the Jamboree, 12 scouts returned to Alaska before the quadrennial gathering ended.
Those who remained set up a memorial at the site of the accident and read a eulogy to their fallen leaders.
Although Anderson said he did not know all the leaders who died, he knew Scott Powell for more than 20 years.
“Everybody knew Scott. He was the camp director at Camp Gorsuch north of Anchorage,” Anderson said.
Powell coordinated all activities at the scout camp and Anderson would go there to teach cold-weather first aid and hypothermia classes to scouts during the winter.
Powell had retired to Ohio 1 1/2 years ago after living in Alaska for 30 years, and according to Anderson, the scouts invited him out of retirement to attend the jamboree because he had never attended one.
Anderson, whose son, Jeremy, 39, is a scoutmaster, son, Nate, 30, was a scoutmaster in Arizona, and son, Matt, 35, works with scouts, also has a son, Deryk, 28, currently in medical school. All four sons are Eagle Scouts.
Dr. Anderson and his wife, Carla, also have two daughters, Carissa and Rebecca.
This was the first jamboree Anderson had attended since he went as a boy in 1960. He said he plans to attend the next National Boy Scout Jamboree in 2010, celebrating scouting’s 100th anniversary.
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