Swept away: How to survive a fast-moving current
When enjoying Alaska’s outdoors, a situation can quickly change from safe to deadly. But, there are things you can do to be better prepared in an emergency situation that will increase your chances of being rescued.
Joe McCullough, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of Boating Safety, said the first is letting people know where you are going, even if it’s only to fish at Ship Creek during a lunch hour. McCullough said an important thing to realize is that bad things can happen, even when the weather is at its best.
“Most fatalities happen on beautiful, clear, sunny weekend days, not when you think something’s going to happen to you,” he said.
McCullough said being prepared means thinking ahead about what could happen and having a plan in place if it did. He said if someone falls into cold water, they should expect to gasp and hyperventilate at first, but that sensation will usually pass in a minute or two.
“That realization is a life saver because if you know that that bad feeling is going to go away, then you don’t panic as much and you can do what you need to do to self-rescue or be rescued by others,” he said.
McCullough said once people get their breathing under control they have at least ten minutes before the numbing effects of cold water slow them down. If they are in a swiftly moving river the recommendation is to keep your head up, feet pointed downriver and your head slightly inclined toward the shore.
Once close to shore, McCullough said you should avoid the temptation to stand up and walk out of the water. He said people frequently get feet or hands stuck on the bottom and become trapped.
“What I tell people is, wait until your bottom’s dragging and then kind of roll out of the river. It might be uncomfortable, but you don’t get hurt, I mean, you don’t get stuck. You could get scraped, but if you kind of roll out of the river instead of trying to stand up in shallow water where your foot can get trapped and then you can’t get it free.”
McCullough advises people who are spending time around the water to wear a life jacket. For fishermen, he recommends a self-inflating model that sits in what looks like a fanny pack. A manual cord will inflate a ring that can keep someone’s head above water.
It's also important to have communication devices on hand. McCullough recommends having two at all times. He says the first could be a cell phone or a personal locator of some sort. The second device can be low tech, like a whistle, small mirror or flares — something to signal rescuers and help them pinpoint your exact location.
McCullough said people shouldn’t be afraid to get out and enjoy what Alaska has to offer, but being prepared can go a long way towards keeping people safe.
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