Man and dog rescued after stranded overnight on river

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- With only a personal flotation device and a red floating seat cushion to lie on, his dog for companionship, fuel for a fire and a watch to keep track of the 16 hours as they drifted by, Phillip Harris spent Sunday night stranded on a Tanana River logjam.

His efforts to wave down two helicopters and three boats went unheeded until two Chena Pump residents with a panoramic view of the Tanana River spied Harris and his 3-year-old Rottweiler, Ali, perched on the large logjam in the center of the river.

Harris, 38, became stranded after his regular Sunday routine went awry. He drove his 14-foot skiff from his riverfront home near the Chena Pump Wayside to pick up a newspaper, eat a Danish and drink coffee at Pike's Restaurant.

It was a sunny day and instead of heading back home, he decided to take an excursion around Byers Island in the middle of the Tanana River. He spotted a logjam and while looking for interesting driftwood steered the skiff too close to the logs.

''I just goofed,'' Harris said at home after his rescue Monday afternoon. ''I don't like that boat. It's too easy to get into trouble. I need to get a bigger boat.''

He ran into shallow water, hit bottom and the current took him into a sweeper. The boat got stuck, filled with water and Harris tried to grab paddles, a screwdriver and other equipment as it started drifting off.

''I thought, 'Wait a minute, I need to get out.'''

He threw a fuel tank and Ali on the 50-by-10 foot logjam and followed them.

Then he waited.

''I had lots of time to dry my clothes out and wait for my rescue,'' Harris said. ''I looked at the stars, the northern lights ... took a couple of catnaps.''

In the meantime two helicopters, two small boats and the Riverboat Discovery passed into the distant view without seeing Harris and his dog.

The hours passed by until Les and Jennie Dalton made the call to Alaska State Troopers Monday morning after spotting Harris and Ali in the middle of the channel.

Fish and Wildlife Protection Trooper Jon Simeon was in the middle of tearing apart his boat's fuel system when he heard about the stranded boater.

It took him an hour to tear the system apart, but only five minutes to put it back together. An hour later he put in at the Chena Pump Wayside and found Harris and Ali perched on the logjam.

''He was all set to get rescued,'' Simeon said. ''He had his life preserver and orange cushion. He had his dog to keep him company.''

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