Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Red Cross to honor 3 fishermen


Blake Ward said he doesn’t consider himself a hero “but I felt like one that night” on Sept. 21 when a raging storm sank the commercial gillnet boat Kyra Dawn and nearly claimed its skipper, Woody Pahl of Haines.

Battling winds up to 71 knots and swells eight feet and taller, Ward and Chris Olsen aboard the boat Gabriella and Brad Badger on the Osprey maneuvered their vessels to locate Pahl and hoist him to safety.

Ward, Olsen and Badger will be toasted by dignitaries from around the state April 28 when they’re presented with the Marine Rescue Award at the 16th annual Red Cross Real Heroes Breakfast at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage.

Olsen, a 20-year-old skipper, said in an interview this week that he made at least two mistakes going after Pahl, and was lucky. “I was really scared, honestly. I was questioning what I was doing out there even before the accident happened.”

Violent winds blew up quickly that night and boats were racing for the shelter of William Henry Bay around 9 p.m. when Pahl’s vessel swamped. Badger was close by and saw the Kyra Dawn go down, but he was having difficulty holding a light on Pahl and at the same time controlling his vessel amid the swells.

Olsen had the advantage of a deckhand on board – Ward. As Olsen approached and Badger spotlighted the scene, Ward tossed Pahl a tethered life ring. Olsen and Ward hauled Pahl aboard.

Olsen said this week the rescue could have gone awry twice. On approaching Pahl, he forgot to look out for rigging from the foundering Kyra Dawn that could have entangled his propeller, incapacitating his boat or dragging it down into the water. “No one would have been able to help me. I would have been dead in the water.”

Also, when Ward brought Pahl up to the rails of his boat, Olsen jumped from his flying bridge to the deck below, a foolhardy move that could have pitched him overboard, creating a nightmare for Ward and Badger.

“Those things weren’t really on my mind… I grabbed on to Woody, and Blake and I yarded him in. I definitely couldn’t have done it alone,” Olsen said.

Red Cross sent a videographer to Haines about a month ago to interview the local men. The filmed interviews will be part of the April 28 ceremony in Anchorage.

The Haines trio will join 29 other Alaskans winning awards in 11 categories at the ceremony. The event typically draws a crowd of 500, including the Mayor of Anchorage and state legislators, said Beth Bennett, regional communication officer for Red Cross.

The award goes to “everyday individuals” who act during a moment of distress to save a life or lives. “This is about honoring people who do the right thing when needed. We want to shine a light on people who step up,” she said.

Besides earning a glass statuette, the three Haines men will be honored at a reception for award recipients and sponsors the night before the breakfast.

Other categories of awards to be given include “military,” “community safety,” and “good Samaritan,” Bennett said.


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