A fisherman who spent a day and night adrift in a 4-by-4-foot plastic fish bin after his boat sank says he gave himself pep talks and sang “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to keep his spirits up.
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His fellow crew member managed to get into a survival suit and washed ashore on a beach after his own night afloat.
A Coast Guard helicopter hoisted Ryan Harris, 19, of Sitka, from his plastic “lifeboat” on Saturday, more than 24 hours after the boat sank on Friday, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported Monday.
Two hours before Harris’ rescue, crewmate Stonie “Mac” Huffman of Sitka was rescued from a beach about 25 miles northwest of Sitka.
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Harris told the newspaper their 28-foot aluminum boat got hit by big waves and overturned. They were dumped into the water before they could send a mayday. The search for them started after friends reported them overdue Friday night.
“It’s truly a miracle they survived,” said Sitka Mountain Rescue director Don Kluting, who helped in the search.
“I never thought I was going to die, but I was worried about Mac,” Harris told the newspaper Monday. “I’m glad to be here.”
The two men were fishing for coho salmon about two miles off Cape Edgecumbe when the hydraulics failed on their boat. They fixed that problem but decided to head back to port.
Then they encountered waves, one of which tipped the boat onto its side.
Two survival suits were on board, but neither man was wearing one when the boat went down. After the boat capsized, the two men climbed onto the upturned hull.
“We had no radio, no cell phones,” Harris said.
Huffman later found a survival suit that floated from the wreckage.
The two managed to grab some empty fish totes that had washed loose. Huffman stabilized one while Harris climbed inside. The men weren’t able to get Huffman into a bin but he took a plastic bin lid for flotation. Eight-foot waves soon separated the men.
The Coast Guard said that Huffman told them the lid drifted away during the two hours that he struggled to get into the survival suit.
At one point, Harris said, his bin dumped him and he struck his head, but he was able to get in and keep it balanced for the remainder of the 26 hours until his rescue.
The toughest part was not knowing the fate of his friend, Harris said.
“I gave myself a pep talk,” he said. He kept repeating for four hours: “I’m Ryan Hunter Harris and I’m not going to die here.”
During his sleepless night, he sang songs to keep up his spirits.
The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter early Saturday and three others later that day. Alaska State Troopers and Sitka Mountain Rescue sent four boats out searching, Kluting said.
The troopers found Huffman, an experienced fisherman in his mid-40s, who had reached the beach at Point Amelia about an hour before troopers spotted him waving on the shore.
Harris suffered blistered hands from clutching the bin and a cut above his eye from where it struck him, but he declared Monday that he was “almost 100 percent.”