Following a period of heavy rainfall that left a number of rivers bloated, a Fairbanks man was rescued Monday from the Tanana River near Delta Junction after his kayak was pulled under a logjam, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Troopers received a report just after 1 p.m. Monday from Erin Brunquist, 69, of Palmer, that his son, Christien Brunquist, 42, was stuck on a logjam in the middle of the Tanana River after his kayak was pinned against it. According to troopers, Christien Brunquist was eventually able to free himself and climb up onto the logs. His father had also been pinned against the jam but was able to free himself and paddle to the shore.
Troopers said a rescue boat from the Whitestone Community Association was requested to assist with the rescue and was able to pick up both victims and their gear and transport them to the Tanana River boat landing at the Richardson Highway.
Driving that boat was Seth Baranoski, a member of the Whitestone Community Association who recounted the story to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
“I got a phone call from one of my friends in town wondering if I was available to take a boat ride to look for these guys,” he said. “So me and my son went and got the boat.”
Baranoski was then told by troopers that the Brunquists had floated down the Delta Clearwater River into the Tanana River. He said the Whitestone Community Association does not often conduct these kinds of rescues, but he happened to be available and was willing to help.
After floating the river for 5 or 6 miles, Baranoski spotted the elder Brunquist at the side of the river.
“One of the guys waved at me from the beach. He seemed to be fine,” Baranoski said. “He was motioning to me to go fetch another guy, who was clearly stranded on a log pile in the middle of the river.”
Baranoski said he idled the boat near the jam and got Christien Brunquist to safety. Brunquist then told Baranoski that the fast-moving water had sucked the kayak under the jam and that he was trapped underwater for “what he thought was about a minute.”
“The guy was clearly very hypothermic, but he was ecstatic to be alive. He thought this was going to be his last day,” Baranoski said. “When you’re in the water like that, there’s so much pressure pinning you down, I think it was a miracle he wriggled out of there.”
Following several bouts of heavy rain, the National Weather Service issued a number of flood advisory warnings this week, some of which remain in effect until this afternoon. Baranoski confirmed that the stretch of the Tanana River where the Brunquists got into trouble was “good and deep — and it was fast.”
Baranoski said the man’s injuries were minor and that the man was exhibiting symptoms of early stage hypothermia.
“He looked like he’d been bruised and a few small cuts. He was banged up. He probably had to struggle free from that pile of wood,” Baranoski said, before reiterating, “It was kind of miraculous that he got out of there.”
Baranoski also noted that they were able to salvage all of Brunquist’s gear.
“We got everything,” he said. “Nothing was lost.”
According to troopers, Delta Medical Transport responded and treated minor injuries. The Rural Deltana Volunteer Fire Department also assisted in the rescue.
The News-Miner was not immediately able to reach Christien Brunquist for comment.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.