The rapids at low tide south of the Salt Chuck East cabin in Duncan Canal (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

One of the five hunters involved in last week’s fatal boating accident in Duncan Canal has written his account of that night. Mike Payne of Petersburg was skippering the Fish Hawk on an annual duck and goose hunt. Two men were in a skiff that flipped. One man was rescued from the chilly waters on a stormy night, while another, Doug Larson, perished.

(Editor’s note: Below is Mike Payne’s account of what happened October 10th at the Duncan salt chuck. KFSK asked for Payne’s account of what happened and he emailed this response. It corrects and clarifies initial reporting by KFSK based on information from searchers.)

We planned on heading up the Duncan salt chuck on Thursday the 10th. The tide was “supposed” to be a 14.8 at 12:22 p.m. It is always later than that over there though.  We always end up leaving early from town and did so again.  Doug is always chomping at the bit to leave town and get out of cell range. 

Anyway we knew we were early so we took our time and got to the rapids at around 11:30 that morning. We all agreed we wouldn’t head up until 12:30 p.m. We spent the hour laughing, joking and talking about how great this hunt was going to be.  At 12:30, the tide was still going in a bit so we headed in, went on the track line I use all the time but for some reason clipped bottom and were spun a bit and got hung up on a rock in my boat, the Fish Hawk.  The tide was coming in still, so no worries we pumped up the zodiac and started to unload stuff. Nick (Charles King) took three loads and another friend took three loads fully expecting the boat to float. As the last load of gear was taken off the tide switched and we knew the boat was stuck until the tide at 12:22 a.m, which was a 14.9.  We got a secondary anchor out and secured the Fish Hawk so it would sit down properly on the rocks after a short time when everything was secure.

We all spent a little more time out there with me apologizing and everybody else saying how happy they were to be out there. I had always said I was staying on the Fish Hawk until it floated and I would bring it up to the cabin.  Kurt decided to stay on the boat with me, while the other three moved into the cabin.  We went to sleep and set an alarm for 11 p.m. to get the anchor up and get ready to go.  I never did sleep because wind came up and I just felt uncomfortable. The alarm went off and I woke Kurt up and we went outside. The wind was howling and tide had started to rush in.

At this point it hadn’t started to rain yet and it was light enough that we could see Nick and Doug had come back out in the Forest Service skiff to bring us a warm pizza that they had made.  Unfortunately the wind and tide were too strong and even though they were only 75 yards away they couldn’t get any closer. They must have been there around 15 minutes before we saw them turn sideways and go towards the shore where it was darker and we couldn’t see them. At this point we heard a yell but nothing else. We called out but though the wind and tide they couldn’t hear us or us hear them.  We figured they had headed back to the cabin.

Our boat began to break loose and move. It was getting pretty scary. We put on life jackets and got outside kept thinking around midnight the current would slow down and our list (lean) wouldn’t be quite so bad. It seemed like forever but finally the boat broke loose, righted itself and we drifted through the rapids right at 12:30 a.m. After the celebratory hug, we motored up to the cabin and no saw skiff. We woke our third friend up who said they hadn’t come back and thought they stayed out with us. We made a quick (turns out too small) circle around the bay. Now it was really raining and blowing. I dropped Kurt off at the cabin so they could do a shoreline search and I would call the Coast Guard and keep looking from the boat.

Around 1 a.m., I went out back to shine the spotlight again and for some reason in between gusts I heard Nick yell. They had drifted around three quarters of a mile. They weren’t able due to wind and current to kick the boat to the beach. On top of that, the anchor had fallen out of the overturned skiff and hung up in eight feet of water not allowing them to get blown to the beach. They knew the only chance they had was to hang onto the boat since they were both wearing waders.

When I was finally able to locate them I didn’t see Doug and Nick barely had his mouth above water I actually had to grab his hair to pull him up.  He then pulled Doug up and tried to get me to take him. When Nick pulled him up, Doug had been fully submerged for a while and in my mind had already passed away. I tried getting both of them up but wasn’t able to. I got Nick onboard and in front of a heater but was unable to find Doug again.

I raced back to the cabin to get help. I called the Coast Guard on the way to update them. They said a helicopter was on the way and should have been there at 3 a.m.

From the help of my two other friends they were able to get Nick out of his clothes and under a sleeping bag with heater blasting into it.  We searched for the next three hours until the wind had picked up so bad and tide had been too low.  The helicopter was not able to make it that night.  We anchored up until 6:30 am and began the search again. Finally the helicopter showed up around 9 a.m. and searched for an hour and half. By 8 a.m. Petersburg search and rescue arrived and searched the below the rapids. The helicopter found him about 100 yards from the skiff.

We lost a best friend and great father.  I may have saved Nick’s life but I am no hero. Anybody would have done it for a friend I just wish I could have done more for Doug.  It was just two friends who were trying to bring a warm pizza out to two other friends and it went sideways from there.  I do want it to be known we weren’t out running around at 2 a.m. on that dark stormy night. 

Here is an abbreviated KFSK report of Payne’s account: