Man survives being swept down waterfall

Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A fisheries technician was swept down a 25 foot-waterfall and left clinging to a rock for 2 1/2 hours as torrents of water swept past him before he was finally rescued.

Fred Gallant, 33, of Hoonah was one of three workers studying sockeye salmon at Pavlof Lake, 55 miles north of Sitka, Wednesday morning when he and a co-worker lost control of their 15-foot skiff in the rain-swollen shallows that lead to the rock-strewn falls.

The two men were moving swiftly toward the falls when Gallant's co-worker, Jerome Abbott, 19, managed to get out of the boat and make it to shore. But Gallant's foot snagged on a corner of the skiff and he fell into the water.

''The pressure of the water was so great that it took me under for a minute and a half,'' he said. ''I had to fight for my next breath.''

He wore a flotation vest but also chest waders, and when he fell in the water his waders filled and he went under.

Gallant said he ''spun out'' of the water the way a halfback spins off a tackler ''and ended up going down the falls another 10 feet.'' He was right behind the boat and held on to it.

Both Gallant and the boat stopped at the top of the big drop, the boat precariously hung up on some rocks and Gallant standing thigh-deep in the water.

''I just held on,'' he said. His boots, made for walking on lake and river bottoms, sported felt on their soles, giving him a purchase on the slippery rocks.

''There was no way I could put my total weight on that boat, or we both would have gone over,'' he said.

''There was no way to go back up, no way to go from side to side without sustaining serious injury, maybe even death,'' he said.

Tourists on a trail along the lake summoned help. Rescuers headed that way from nearby Tenakee Springs and from Hoonah. State troopers, the Coast Guard and forest rangers were mobilized.

Gallant's feet eventually went numb, not from cold but from the strained position he was in, he said.

Through it all, Gallant hung on.

''I'm a pretty big guy. If I played football, I'd be a linebacker, plus I'm Tlingit, so pretty hot-blooded. And I'm disciplined and I can persevere,'' Gallant said. ''I have two beautiful children at home and a community that supports what I do, so there's a lot to come home to.''

A Coast Guard helicopter crew arrived at about 1:30 p.m. and plucked him from the falls.

Gallant and his co-workers are employees of the Hoonah Indian Association, the three were working under contract to the U.S. Forest Service to determine whether sockeye salmon in the area can meet subsistence needs, said David Belton, the Indian Association's cultural and natural resources director.

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