Child do-gooder: All in a day's work

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2003

The grandfather of the 6-year-old boy who spotted three men adrift in Cook Inlet says his grandson doesn't feel like a hero after helping to save the men's lives.

"He just thought that was the right thing to do," Mick Stokes said Wednesday from Ninilchik.

Stokes said it was his grandson, T.J., who first spotted the boat as it sank in rough water last month off of Deep Creek. The little boy spotted the boat while staring out at the ocean from the family's home high up on a bluff overlooking the beach. After seeing the boat go down, T.J. alerted his father, who confirmed that someone had gone into the water.

"He ran in and grabbed some field glasses. The little guy said he could see a boat, but all you could see was debris," Stokes said.

Stokes said he initially thought to call 911, but realized emergency responders would not be able to arrive in time to help the three men.

"I could see right away that wasn't going to do any good," he said.

Instead, Stokes called boat launch operator John Hylen, who radioed three charter boats coming in off the water. Charter boat skipper Don Bybee, aboard his handmade boat "Reel Time," was the first to arrive on the scene, and was able to pull the three men to safety after about 20 minutes in the water.

Stokes said he and his family watched the rest of the rescue unfold from their home on the bluff. He said the rough, windy conditions made it hard to keep an eye on the floundering mariners.

"We kept trying to keep an eye on the people, but the wind was blowing one way and taking the stuff on top of the water away from the current," he said.

Stokes said it looked as if Bybee at first couldn't locate the three men amid the debris from the downed boat.

"Finally, they spotted the hand coming up from the water," he said. "He got over there and picked them up."

Stokes said he doesn't think about what he and his family did as being heroic. Instead, he said he believes it was simply a case of being in the right place at the right time and doing what anyone would have done in such a situation. However, he did say the incident gave him a greater appreciation for how fragile life can be.

"No, I don't think we're heroes," he said. "If you believe in the hereafter or anyone watching out somehow, well, it makes you think about that."

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