Lex Treinen
Canoes similar to those advertised by Alaska Mountain Guides for Chilkoot Lake excursions.

At least five guests on a canoe tour operated by Alaska Mountain Guides on Chilkoot Lake were medevaced to Juneau after the boat overturned on Aug. 13, according to Haines fire chief Brian Clay.

Clay was at the lake fishing with his family when the expedition-sized canoe overturned with nine people aboard. He said a rescue canoe pulled up to shore and the crew asked people to leave the dock for a medical emergency.

“There were nine people in the canoe, seven people were soaking wet shivering. All of them were wet,” said Clay. He estimated winds were blowing up to 25 miles per hour that day and that whitecaps were forming in the middle of the lake. He later heard that the passengers had spent from 30 to 40 minutes in Chilkoot Lake. He said he helped get the people off the boat into Alaska Mountain Guides vehicles, while he and assistants wrapped others in sleeping bags.

Clay said the people were in critical condition from hypothermia when he encountered them, and some were disoriented. He said the passengers were elderly.

He said the vehicles with the most critical passengers met ambulances at 6 Mile Lutak Road and transferred the injured to the ambulance, which transported them to the clinic. At least five were later medevaced.

“I want to say 11:30 p.m. was the last medevac. It lasted quite into the night,” he said.

Clay said in his two years as chief he hadn’t heard of other similar incidents on Chilkoot Lake. He said he hadn’t interviewed any staff from Alaska Mountain Guides. Alaska Mountain Guides didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. The company is owned by Sean Gaffney and runs tours and outdoor education classes around Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48, according to its website. It’s been operating since 1999, according to Alaska business records.

Clay said all passengers were wearing life jackets.

“If they wouldn’t have been wearing life jackets, we wouldn’t be talking this way. Life jackets did save their lives,” he said.

CVN wasn’t able to contact passengers of the incident.