Blown Over and Blown Away at Katmai National Park and Preserve
Katmai National Park and Preserve is a classic example of an Alaskan park—beautiful, remote and limited development. When high winds caused several accidents and stranded tourists in Katmai and a nearby NPS area, the park and concession staff came to the rescue in more ways than one.
According to a report from the park,
High winds roared over the Alaska Peninsula over the six-day period from July 23rd to July 28th. Sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph occurred throughout the period, with field crews measuring gusts over 70 mph. Several incidents resulted:
At about 5 a.m. on July 24, the park’s voicemail recorded a call reporting a SPOT device activation (SPOT is a portable GPS and satellite communication device used in emergencies). The caller said that his brother and friends were camped inside the Aniakchak caldera and were preparing to float the Aniakchak and Meshik Rivers. Later that morning, a SPOT 911 alert was received. [Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is a separate NPS unit located south of Katmai.]
Due to weather restrictions ... the Coast Guard was asked to respond. An aircraft from the Kodiak Air Station evacuated three people and flew them to King Salmon.
They told park staff that strong winds moved quickly into the area while they were exploring the caldera and destroyed their campsite. Tents were ripped apart and large amounts of gear, including inflatable boats and supplies, were washed away into Surprise Lake. Other camp gear was scattered throughout the 30-square-mile caldera. The trio covered up with tent flies and huddled together through the night. All were rescued without injuries and were suffering only from mild exposure.
Floatplanes are a common form of transportation in Alaska, including the popular Brooks Camp area at Katmai. However, they aren’t immune to problems with the weather.
On July 25, a Cessna 185 flipped over while attempting to take off from Lake Brooks in mid-afternoon. The Cessna, piloted by Cecil Shuman, was taxiing from shore and had just turned to face the wind when it got hit by sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts into the 60s.
The left wing was caught by a gust, causing the plane to stand on its nose, then flip onto its back. Shuman and his four passengers were able to escape before the Cessna sank to its floats. Brooks Lodge employees saw the event unfold and responded in their boat.
Shortly after, National Park Service maintenance employees responded in an NPS vessel. Three of the five were picked up by the concession boat and the other two by the park boat. Rangers met the victims at the shore and provided EMS care. They were able to change clothes and were warmed aggressively. No injuries were sustained. All five were flown out by another commercial operator later that evening.
Due to severe winds that same day, several commercial operators ceased flights into or out of Brooks Camp. This poses a challenge, since many visitors to that remote area are on day trips, and overnight accommodations--and any facilities for that matter--are very limited. The park and concession staff rose to the occasion with a fine example of Alaskan hospitality.
Park staff and Brooks Lodge took steps to accommodate 63 additional visitors overnight at the camp by housing people in the park's auditorium, visitor center, and government quarters. All visitors were safely accommodated for the evening and all were able to make it out of camp the following day.
Adventures and the need for hospitality weren’t finished on July 25. Elsewhere in the park that same day,
Winds of up to 75 mph stranded a fishing guide and two clients from Enchanted Lake Lodge at the Moraine Creek area. Rangers patrolling in the area met up with the fishermen and provided tent shelter for the night. A sharing of food, shelter and sleeping bags made for a restless but safe night. The visitors and guide were picked up the following morning by their lodge plane.
Sharing food, shelter and sleeping bags with stranded visitors may be an Alaskan twist on “Say buddy, can you spare a dime,” but it also qualifies as a great example of customer service.