Clam Gulch teen inspires heroic award

Boy who saved father earns UFA recognition

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2004

July 19 may be long passed, but that day has made a lasting impression.

It was the day 13-year-old Jess Russell of Clam Gulch saved his father's life.

For that action, Jess recently was selected by the United Fishermen of Alaska as its Fisherman of the Year.

The award, the first of its kind, was presented to Jess in recognition of his heroic actions that resulted in saving Ron Russell and for bringing home the family's boat, the Sherry, and its catch, despite mounting adversity and having to remove his father from the boat for emergency care.

Ron, a longtime drift boat fisher on Cook Inlet, lost consciousness due to carbon monoxide poisoning. He was trying to untangle the net from the out-drive motor when Jess, the sole deckhand, noticed his father was not moving.

Using the knowledge his father taught him, Jess was able to use the boat's radio and global positioning system to lay out an open distress call to summon help.

He managed to pull his father out of the hold and applied skills he learned in Boy Scouts to perform first aid, including taking care of the gash on Ron's head he sustained when he lost consciousness.

Nearby fishers arrived to help, but none had any formal first-aid training.

Ron regained consciousness about an hour later and was transported to Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna, leaving the net full of fish and boat behind. Jess worked the boat hydraulics, while Liz Schmitt and Randy Adkins of the boat Madeira and Steve Schoessler of the Seville picked nets.

Jess then took over as captain and, along with Adkins, took the boat 40 miles back to the Kasilof River to unload his catch and prepare it for its next run, a process that took seven hours.

"In honoring Jess Russell, UFA looks to highlight not only the heroic effort that took place that critical day, but the preparation and skills Jess acquired beforehand. The fact that Jess was prepared for what he needed to do to save his father's life is a noteworthy foundation of this achievement," said UFA Executive Director Mark Vinsel in a press release.

Other UFA honorees include Gov. Frank Murkowski, UFA Man of the Year in Alaskan Politics, and departing commissioner Kevin Duffy, UFA Executive Man of the Year.

UFA is a statewide organization representing 32 Alaska commercial fishing groups.

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