Alaska State Troopers say it was a 51-year-old man from Idaho killed in a logging accident south of Petersburg last Thursday.
The man, Mark Debates, was working as a hook setter for Columbia Helicopters on the southern end of Mitkof Island. Troopers initially gave a different spelling for his name and different home state.
Beth Ipsen is a spokesperson for the Troopers. “What this logging operation does is the helicopters will lift sling loads of logs from the site,” Ipsen said. “And his job was to be on the ground and cable these in to the sling load. What happened is that, it happened right after the helicopter took off with a load, and this is information we got from his partner. They work in pairs. And so Mark was on the ground and a top of a tree fell. His partner heard a crack, turned to look just to see it falling on his partner.”
The tree top was described as 20 feet long and 25 inches in diameter and Ipsen says Troopers don’t know why it fell. “There’s no indication that the helicopter hit the tree so we don’t know exactly what caused the top of this tree to fall. So when his partner saw it he radioed up to the helicopter, the helicopter came back, lifted the tree off of Mark and then took him to the hospital in Petersburg. Unfortunately he succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.”
The accident happened on University of Alaska land near Banana Point on the southern end of Mitkof Island. It’s one of two areas on the island with University timber sales this year. The sales have been controversial locally. The Petersburg borough assembly and city of Kupreanof sent a letter asking to suspend the logging until the University could put out more information on potential impacts. The University agreed to make some changes to its logging plan, including only selective helicopter logging on the south Mitkof area.
Following Thursday’s accident, the logging operation was halted. Work resumed there on Sunday. University public affairs director Kate Ripley said Monday, “our deepest sympathy and condolences go to the family, friends and co-workers of Mr. Debates. It’s a terrible tragedy and extremely sad news.”
The state’s Occupational Safety and Health section investigated the accident and will compile findings of that review over the next few months.