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Float trip ends with copter ride

Posted: Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two canoeists were plucked from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Monday after calling for help.

Patrick Leadbeater, 68, and his daughter, Janelle Leadbeater, 25, both of Honolulu, contacted Alaska State Troopers around 11 a.m. using a cell phone from the banks of the Moose River, about 15 miles upstream of the tea-colored river's confluence with the Kenai River.

Leadbeater, who was reached at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna on Monday afternoon, said the two had fallen behind schedule on their trip from the west entrance of the Swan Lake Canoe Trail system to the outlet of the Moose due to strong winds and less than ideal traveling conditions.

Troopers responded by dispatching a helicopter stationed in Soldotna to the coordinates Leadbeater provided, and later sent a LifeMed helicopter after locating a suitable landing site for the chopper nearby.

The older Leadbeater was transported to CPH for treatment while his daughter was taken by the trooper's aircraft to Kenai, according to AST Capt. Pete Mlynarik.

Leadbeater said he and his daughter set out on their trip a week ago on the afternoon of Sept. 20.

The route, which can be traveled to connect to the Moose River for a multi-day trip, is located in the refuge's northern lowland region and can be accessed via Swanson River Road in Sterling.

They had planned to be done well before Monday, with their flight back to Hawaii scheduled for Sunday, Leadbeater said.

"We'd already been held back on Swan Lake for two days because of gale force winds," he said. "We were getting low on food and water."

Leadbeater said when they reached the Moose River on Sunday afternoon their troubles really began.

"The water was very low and it was really quite difficult moving," he said, referring to deadfall that blocked their passage. "We decided to camp for the night. That's when we got into trouble."

Leadbeater said that while setting up camp on a rough patch of ground that was not a designated campsite he fell, "a couple of times."

When Leadbeater fell a second time he said he needed help from his daughter to get back up.

He said Janelle was also wearing thin from the lengthy trip.

"My daughter was not real bright this morning," he said. "It's just the extra days and the temperatures got down, I think they had an effect on her."

Temperatures dipped to 21 degrees in Soldotna on Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

When the two got up on Monday morning, Leadbeater said: "I was simply unable to proceed, so we called 911 to ask their advice."

Leadbeater said that he had been given medications for his back injury and expected to be released from the hospital by Monday evening.

"It doesn't appear to be anything more than a real severe muscle problem," he said.

The two have rebooked their flight home to Hawaii for Wednesday.

Leadbeater, a veterinarian, said he had wanted to do this particular canoe trip for a long time, and that he had vacationed in Alaska before.

He said as well that he's done numerous camping and travel trips around the country.

While they were prepared for cold temperatures, Leadbeater said he did not expect to encounter the difficult canoeing conditions.

He said he only asked about current stream conditions from the outfitter he rented the canoe from in Sterling.

According to Scott Slavik, a backcountry ranger with the refuge, crews did some work on the canoe trail system over the summer, chiefly improving portages between lakes, but they did not do any work removing deadfall from the Moose.

He said that typically for the trip the Leadbeaters set out on, he would recommend three full days and two nights.

He noted, however, that the area is a designated as wilderness.

"There's an expectation that as you enter those areas that there's a need for skill and an acceptance of risk," Slavik said on Monday.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com



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