How Larry Sine Pulled An Entire Family Out Of Lake Louise At Trigg Island

Lake Louise. (Photo, Lake Louise Lodge) One-Man Rescue Squad  In the summer of 1996, an entire family was rescued from frigid J...

Lake Louise. (Photo, Lake Louise Lodge)

One-Man Rescue Squad 

In the summer of 1996, an entire family was rescued from frigid June waters by Larry Sine – husband of Julie Sine, the Gakona postmaster – when Larry accidentally came across them swamped in the middle of Lake Louise. Lake Louise is a big, beautiful, cold Alaskan lake – with “cold” being the operative word. The spring of 1996 had been a late one, and even though it was now summer, the ice on the lake had just broken up.

Not many people lived year-round at Lake Louise in 1996, or in the decades that have followed. A high 2,500 feet above sea level, Lake Louise is linked by small channels to Lake Susitna, and then on to Lake Tyone. The 26-square mile lake is a vestige of the huge Lake Ahtna, which had splashed out of the valley at the end of the Ice Age when the ice dams melted suddenly 10,000 years ago.

That June day, Larry had made a round trip into Anchorage for generator parts, and was headed back to his cabin at Lake Susitna, which was reached by crossing Lake Louise. The water looked a little rough. “I got to Lake Louise about 3:30,” said Larry. “The wind was southeast and brisk; maybe a 15 or 20 mile wind. It was whitecapping out there.”

At the edge of the lake, off Lake Louise Road where Larry Sine had set his boat in the water, was a quartet of lakeside Alaska lodges. There was Evergreen Lodge, the Point Lodge, Lake Louise Lodge and Wolverine Lodge. The lodgeowners ran bars, restaurants and rooms in the summer, catering to the few people who lived around the lake, and to incoming customers from around Alaska, or from Outside.

In the winter, the lodges organized the region’s winter events, such as snowmachine races or dog races. This past winter, Wolverine Lodge had been the starting point of the frozen-out Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race. The lodges formed the social core of the Lake Louise area. They made their own simple infrastructure – providing comfort and emergency services. Like lodges everywhere,  they were always there when needed.

But Was It A Boat?
Larry left Evergreen Lodge, his boat slapping across the whitecaps. He took the rough waters at a steady pace. “I knew my boat, and I wasn’t pushing the envelope or anything. So I’m headed straight to Lake Susitna channel, and off to my left I see a small boat.” He was about a quarter of a mile away from his launching spot at the end of the road.

But was it a boat? He wasn’t sure. He thought to himself, “Boy that’s a small boat to be out on a day like today.” He started to turn his own craft to avoid hitting it. “I didn’t want to run them down.”

Then he saw the people. They were wearing orange or yellow life jackets, and were near the end of Trigg Island. What was going on?  He still wasn’t sure. Larry started to turn away again. Then, squinting, he realized what he was looking at. Larry said to himself, “That’s a really small boat because it’s upside down. There’s people waving on it. It’s capsized. The boat looked really small because it was upside down and in the water...

“I saw somebody raise an arm. I thought, Ah hah! I kept going on. I didn’t want to go straight at them. They started waving vigorously then.”

As Unsinkable As The Titanic 
As his boat plied the waves, Larry could finally piece out the story. “I could see they were clinging to the bottom of a capsized Boston Whaler;  about a 12 or 14 foot Boston Whaler. There were five people – a man, his mother, and the man’s kids. I approached them. Too rapidly, really, with the wind behind me. I almost ran them down. So I had to go in reverse.”

The Boston Whaler boat company made a remarkable boat. But it also made a fate-tempting claim about the foam-filled hull. The Boston Whaler website, years later, boasted: “Experience the Unsinkable Legend... Boston Whaler has delivered for decades what no other boat can. When boats were expected simply to float, Boston Whaler proved they could be unsinkable.” Of course, the great trans-Atlantic ocean liner, the mighty Titanic, bragged it was unsinkable, too.

And we all know how well that turned out.

As advertised, the Whaler hadn’t sunk. But, as an upside down hunk of foam and fiberglass, bobbing around in the icy lake, it wasn’t doing the family much good. Larry said, “They was heavily overloaded. They were headed to Brush Island; that cabin out there. It would only be about a mile from the causeway.” Like the Titanic, the upset was due to pilot error. “He could have made two trips easy enough. As soon as he got in the open water, he just capsized.”

Over The Gunnels
Easing up to the stricken craft, Larry had to think fast. “I was by myself. I got up with them, and shut the motor off, and floated over to them. I tossed a rope over to the guy. He pulled the two boats together.” Then Larry started trying to pull everybody out of the water and aboard his own boat. “I grabbed the biggest kid and hauled him over the side. Then I tried to pick the woman up. She was a little skinny thing. The old lady, she’s not dressed very warmly you know. She’s in the worst shape. I tried to get her on. She can hardly help herself; she was completely helpless. Couldn’t help at all. My boat has a flared side; when we leaned over it, she’s kind of underneath the flare on the side. She couldn’t move her arms or legs. I had to give up on her.”

So Larry went on to the next person, while the rest of the family held the man’s mother. “I got the guy in next. He could help himself – a little. Him and me pulled the mother in. We kind of roughed her up, dragging her over the gunnels. She didn’t complain. Then we grabbed the two smallest kids. They was wet, but clear almost out of the water. They were sitting on top of the boat. He said, Can we get the dog?”

Oh sure. Why not. “We got man’s best friend. Drug him across. He didn’t bite anybody.”

What Was It They Said He'd Need?
Larry Sine now had to figure out what to do next. “I thought, Well, I’d just been through a first aid course at the Fire Hall.” What was it they said he’d need again? “Warm soup, coffee, blankets... And I ain’t got nothing like that in the boat. No blankets. No coffee. And I’ve got five of them. My best bet is back to the lodge, at full speed.”

The owner of the boat, though, didn’t agree. “The guy wanted to tow his boat. I said, No, I don’t have time for that. I could see they was all hypothermic. The old lady, she was getting close to unconsciousness, she was so cold. She needed help. I wasn’t going to save his boat. No.”

Larry swung his own heavily laden boat around. Larry’s boat was now weighed down with his own gear, the entire rescued family, and a dog. It looked pretty bad. “They’re all laying in a puddle in the back of the boat. I tossed my coat to the guy. I think he put his coat on one of the kids.” The best thing to do, Larry thought to himself, was to get back to the lodge as fast as possible, where there were blankets, clothes and something warm to drink. “I went back to the lodge, as fast as I could, wide open.”

But which lodge? Jack Hansen, who owned Evergreen, was gone for the day. Larry had seen Jack headed up Lake Louise Road on his tractor as he was setting out. “So I said, Instead of Evergreen, where there’s nobody around, we’ll go to Wolverine, where they have a lodge full of people.”

Full Speed Onto The Shore At Wolverine
At Wolverine Lodge there were half a dozen patrons, casually sitting around in the bar and drinking on a nice afternoon. They all looked up when they saw the boat coming. “They said, Look! Larry’s coming at full speed! And he’s not stopping!” recalled Larry. He ran his boat right up on shore. It was quite a spectacle. By the time the boat roared up, “They had a full crowd out there.”

The entire family of strangers was safe. And Larry was left to ponder the situation for the next 20 years, every time he crossed Lake Louise to get to his cabin. “It was too small a boat for the number of people in it,” he said decades later. “There was two dogs, five people, their gear, outboard motor and a gas tank, ice chest... It was too much stuff, too small a boat. And the weather conditions were too rough. One dog drowned.”

The family had grit, though. “After making his initial mistake, overturning the boat, going out in rough weather, the guy did fine,” Larry acknowledged. The man’s need to protect his family kicked in and kept them alive. “Keeping them together, keeping their spirits up. Getting the kids up in the water. He knew he made a mistake.”

The rescue was a typical one for the Copper Valley. First, an ordinary local person came upon people in dire trouble who had underestimated the dangers of the region, and the local resident then had to step in and save the day. Second, as was most often the case, the rescued were taken to the nearest lodge. And third, the people who were rescued – traumatized by their situation – didn’t bother to find out the names of their rescuers. Eventually, Larry did find out who the family members were. And it meant a lot to him. “I got a thank-you letter from the grandmother, which I still have out at the cabin,” Larry said in May, 2016.

Who Are You? 
One of the excited children thought she knew right off who Larry was, though. “The littlest girl, she kept asking me, Are you Jesus? Are you Jesus?” It turned out her dad had promised, while they were clinging to that boat, not to worry. He had told her, “Jesus would save them.” “No, I’m not Jesus,” said Larry. He was just Larry.

Like all Copper Valley people who saved others, rescuing people didn’t make you “good.” It was just part of the responsibility of living in the Copper Valley.

From: Interview in the Copper River Country Journal, July 4th, 1996 with added information in a May, 2016 interview with Larry Sine. 


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