After pulling nine people out of the water in his 31 years of commercial drift netting, Greg Perkins knows anyone on the river, or the ocean, who isn't wearing a life jacket is asking for trouble. So when he fished two men and a teenage boy out of the mouth of the Kenai River around 6 p.m. Tuesday, he credits luck for being in the right place at the right time.
"They're lucky I'd seen it," he said. "One kid was a goner, he was in full panic, going up and down and under."
Perkins was in his trailer at Ocean Beauty Dock in Kenai when he heard an outboard motor rev up and then a crash. He saw three heads bobbing up and down in the water, an empty skiff doing circles in the middle of the river and a commercial boat with a huge gash in it.
"The boat was running around in circles trying to gobble them up," Perkins said. "It happened so quick, they probably didn't even realize it."
Kenai police officers and firefighters responded to the Kenai City Dock after hearing about a boat running wild. Lt. Kim Wannamaker of the Kenai Police Department said two 21-year-old men and a 16-year-old were out fishing for silver salmon and were headed downstream when they decided to go back upstream. As they made a sharp turn, the edge of the boat caught the water and tossed all three anglers overboard before continuing in circles itself.
"The occupants were in the water less than a couple of minutes before they were rescued by someone who had seen it," Wannamaker said. "All three are okay, none were injured (and) the skiff appeared to be fine, but while it was doing circles it collided with an anchored commercial boat in the river and caused damage there."
Wannamaker said the 16-year-old was the only person wearing a life jacket, but Perkins said he gave the boy the life jacket.
"I wouldn't mind if the kid brings it back," he said. "I would say they're pretty crazy to be in the water without life jackets."
Both Perkins and Wannamaker said the boaters were lucky someone was there to rescue them. Perkins said the occupants were approximately 250 yards from shore and with the tide starting to go out, they might not have made it.
"Maybe the two older guys, but the kid that was panicking wasn't going anywhere," he said. "I don't know if he could swim or if it was just panic."
"The guys in the skiff were just friends out for some afternoon fishing," Wannamaker said. "Thanks to the quick response of the guy in the skiff, (he) saved them from the possible effects of cold water immersion."
Perkins' latest rescue makes nine people he's pulled from out of rivers and oceans so far. In 1992, he pulled in two drifters who sank their boat in Cook Inlet. He's also pulled surfers out in San Diego. In all but two rescues, the victims weren't wearing life jackets, he said.
"Just 'cause you're on the river doesn't mean you're not in trouble if you fall in," he said. "If my turn ever comes, (I hope) somebody sees me and will grab onto me."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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