The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

A Tragedy in the 49th State Remembered

 

April 3, 2019



Prior to the 1970 Gold Medal Basketball Tournament, in Juneau, Alaska, three men, one of which intended to play in the tournament, decided to spend a few days hunting seals in Seymour Canal on Admiralty Island.

The weather was calm and many seals had been seen the previous spring in that area. For safety purposes, three men took two small boats nine miles from the Juneau Harbor down Gastineau Channel, around Marmion Island, five miles across Stephens Passage, three miles up Oliver's Inlet and over a rail tram to Seymour Canal.

The trip over was uneventful, the men saw no seals; it was a poor time to hunt since the annual fish migration had yet to start. This region's seasonal salmon runs are a major harbor seal attraction.

As time drew short on February 16, 1970 the men turned back, and decided to return to Juneau with all three men in only one of their small boats. Stephens Passage was relatively calm, but Taku glacial winds were blowing across Gastineau Channel as the men traveled by Marmion, an island between Stephens Passage and Gastineau Channel.

This area is known for severe riptides and standing waves. Taku winds often reach 100mph gusts.

As the three men began crossing the mouth of Gastineau Channel a powerful Taku wind hit and drove their boat's stern under water, swamping the boat. Two of the men grabbed the bow floating high. The third attempted to get into a life jacket, but was paralyzed by the icy cold water, weighed down by his· heavy boots, and winter clothes, he had no chance of survival. He went down in about 70 feet of water about 200 yards off Marmion Island.

The other two men clung to the bow until the wind finally blew them ashore. Despite their frozen and desperate condition, the two men hiked roughly five miles over rugged rocky terrain to Douglas, (across from Juneau). Search for the third man was subsequently initiated without success.

Typical of many accidents, a series of events led to this tragic death including: the decision to put three men in one small boat, the failure to understand the changing wind and wave conditions at Marmion Island, and most importantly the decision to not wear life vests.

The 1970 Gold Medal Basketball Tournament proceeded as scheduled less one of their top players, who played for the Juneau Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) team. He was an all-state Montana high school basketball player from Fort Benton, and graduate of Montana State College. His ANB jersey was retired at this event, which was accepted by his wife, Susan.

Alaska and Montana lost to the sea a young beautiful soul and a brilliant civil engineer 49 years ago. No marker was ever erected at the accident site in 1970. He was gone, but never forgotten.

Forty-nine (49) years later on February 16, 2019, a 46 foot power troller named the "Sally Girl" captained by Mike Sofoulis, departed the Juneau Harbor and transported a black granite slab, engraved with "Dale Edward Nottingham 1970," to waters off Marmion Island to honor this man.

The snow peaked mountains reflective, the water calm, the feel of salt spray and burning Montana sage encompassed the boat, as the heavy stone was lowered at the location Dale Nottingham lost his life.

A natural wreath of spruce, hemlock, blueberry, huckleberry, thimbleberry branches and a single red rose followed to celebrate him and his love of nature. Dale's spiritual features were silhouetted in the swirling smoke of sage as a solo flying seagull heralded his freedom.

"Lord be good to us, for the sea is so wide, and our ship is so small." Anonymous

 
 

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