PALMER — For the second time in a week, Mat-Su Borough Water Rescue teams were unable to save the life of someone in the Matanuska River. After a mother and child fell in late Tuesday night before drowning, a parachuter fell to his death just after 5 p.m. on Friday.
Authorities received a report at 5:03 p.m. on Friday that a private parachuter with Kapowsin Airsports Limited, out of Washington, had deployed both his main and reserve parachutes and fallen beneath the bluffs on the Matanuska River bed.
The Department of Forestry was the first to begin the search, sending employees out in an ATV prior to the arrival of the Palmer Police Department, Mat-Su Emergency Medical Services, or water rescue teams. The parachuter died shortly after resuscitation efforts were discontinued at 5:52 p.m., according to Palmer Police Chief Lance Ketterling.
The victim had not been identified as of Saturday afterooon.
Earlier in the week, 29-year-old Amanda Lange of Anchorage attempted to rescue her 5-year old son Gabriel who had ventured too far into the rushing Matanuska River and been swept away on Tuesday. A bystander witnessed Lange go into the river and called authorities at 9:05 p.m.
After the call came in, search and rescue resources from around the Valley convened on the George W. Palmer Bridge to attempt to save the mother and child.
“Life Med somehow showed up. We’re not sure if they were called or not may have had a helo in the area. A helicopter responded and at one point there was a private aircraft flying. We’re not sure how he showed up or how he was involved,” Trooper Brent Johnson said on Tuesday night.
Troopers arrived on scene around 9:20. Soon after, PPD arrived with several officers, one of whom immediately took off on foot down the river bank to try to locate the missing mother and child. The Palmer Ambulance and Fire Department, Butte Ambulance and FD, and Central Mat-Su Ambulance FD arrived and took ATV’s out onto the river bed to search for the missing persons. One firefighter stood next to his truck on the bridge, looking out over the river bed with binoculars, searching for the missing mother and child. The Mat-Su Water Rescue team arrived and immediately got boats in the water. The Palmer Emergency Services Special Response Unit was also on scene. Authorities coordinated efforts between all of the emergency responders on ATV’s, in the two boats that left just north of the bridge and the two helicopters that hovered low above the river looking for the lost mother and her child.
Concerned citizens gathered along the Old Glenn Highway to see if they could help find the missing people.
“We appreciate people’s willingness to help. It’s a good Alaskan spirit. People do need to realize sometimes in a coordinated response and rescue, that can actually be a hindrance … If people want to try to volunteer to help, try to get in contact with us first. And frequently we will use that help, especially in rural areas. But it needs to be coordinated and organized,” Brent Johnson of AST said.
The unusually high and fast current of the river, as a result of the abrupt end of spring, proved dangerous to the Lange family on Tuesday night. Just before the two went into the river on Tuesday, the water level at the bridge was at its highest recorded point this week: 10.27 feet, according to the National Weather Service’s website. The National Weather Service monitors river levels
“I personally went and hiked the Butte today, earlier, with my son, and drove over this very bridge and even commented to him ‘wow, the water is really high today’” Johnson said.
The borough does not have authority over flood mitigation or river management. Only in two places in the MSB have voters chosen to tax themselves so that the borough can maintain the river. There is one dyke in downtown Talkeetna and five-finger dykes near the Butte.
“Once the river comes underneath the bridge, it scours away at the land between the Glenn and river. Some of the edges of that are very steep are undercut, and it could be very dangerous. It’s the states thing to manage it over there. There’s no doubt that it’s dangerous,” MSB Public Works Director Terry Dolan said.