A Metlakatla man died last week while diving for geoducks in the Annette Island reserve area. The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the death, but at this time it is considered accidental.
The Feb. 21 accident is close on the heels of an earlier diving death near Metlakatla. A man died in January while fishing for sea cucumbers, according to Lt. Dave Evans of the Ketchikan Marine Safety Detachment.
Evans is a marine casualty investigator with the Coast Guard, and is leading the investigation into both deaths. He said crew members on the boat during last week’s accident noticed something was wrong and sent divers down to check on the man.
“And they found that he was unresponsive, so they brought him to the surface and started CPR, because all of them are trained in CPR,” he said. “(They) transferred him to the Coast Guard small boat, where they sent the individual over to PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. He was pronounced deceased.”
Evans declined to identify the man or the vessel, and Metlakatla officials declined to comment.
Evans said the cause of death is not yet known. A report is pending from the state Medical Examiner.
Evans said the Coast Guard also is analyzing the dive equipment. He stressed that the goal of the investigation is to improve safety.
“If we notice any kind of – a group of problems that’s happening, to where we need to create a new regulation to make it safer for these guys out on the water, then we’ll do that,” he said. “That’s kind of the point of Coast Guard marine casualty investigations in general.”
The January sea cucumber dive death happened on Jan. 10, Evans said. The man was found on the surface of the water, and was taken to Metlakatla’s clinic where he was pronounced dead.
Despite two deaths in a short time frame, Evans praised Metlakatla’s dive-safety training programs.
“To be able to get a permit from the fisheries manager, you have to have open water training, dive safety training, advanced open water training, and these are all real dive trainings that they go outside of this area to take, and then they have CPR and First Aid training,” he said. “So, these are certificates that these individuals hold. From my basic understanding, Metlakatla is one of the best trained as far as dive safety.”
But, Evans said, diving can be dangerous and accidents happen, even to a well-trained diver.
Annette Island is Alaska’s only Native reserve. The community of Metlakatla is about 40 miles from Ketchikan.