Fisherman Survives Day at Sea in Crate

Sep 11, 2012 9:35am

A 19-year-old fisherman was rescued off the coast of Alaska Saturday after spending more than 24 hours adrift in a 4-by-4 foot plastic fish crate.

Ryan Harris, of Sitka, Alaska, departed with his crewmate, 40-year-old Stonie “Mac” Huffman, Friday for a day of fishing aboard their 28-foot aluminum boat.  The men were about two miles offshore fishing for salmon when their boat began experiencing mechanical problems and they decided to head back to shore, according to the Daily Sitka Sentinel.

On the way back, the waters became choppy and their boat was slammed by an eight-foot wave.  The boat overturned and the men were thrown into the icy waters with no lifeboat, no life vests and no radios to call for help.

The pair did have empty fish totes onboard that they found in the water and were able to grab.  While Harris climbed inside one of the small crates, Huffman could only grab onto a lid for flotation as waves struck again and separated them in the water.

Coast Guard officials were alerted Friday night by friends of the pair who reported them missing.  Four helicopters searched throughout the early morning and next day.  Meanwhile, four boats were dispatched by Alaska State Troopers and Sitka Mountain Rescue to assist in the search, Sitka Mountain Rescue Director Don Kluting told the paper.

Huffman was found by authorities on a beach about 25 miles northwest of Sitka, wearing a survival suit he found in the water and struggled for two hours to put on while losing hold of the plastic lid.

Huffman was able to point rescuers in the direction of Harris, still in his bin and relying on songs like “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to keep himself awake and alive overnight.

“I gave myself a pep talk,” Harris told the Daily Sitka Sentinel Monday, saying he repeated for hours the phrase, “I’m Ryan Hunter Harris and I’m not going to die here.”

Two hours later, and 26 hours their boat first sank on Friday, a Coast Guard helicopter hoisted Harris to safety.

Both men survived with only minor injuries, including, for Harris, blistered hands from gripping the bin and a cut above his eye where, at one point, he bumped his head on the crate.

“I never thought I was going to die, but I was worried about Mac,” Harris told the newspaper. “I’m glad to be here.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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