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Man dies after becoming trapped in tidal mud flat in Alaska

Zachary Porter, of Illinois, got stuck in the mud. Rescuers couldn’t reach him before he was submerged by the incoming tide.
A channel flows through the mud flats along the Seward Highway and Turnagain Arm in Alaska on Oct. 25, 2014. Authorities said, a 20-year-old man from Illinois who was walking Sunday evening, May 21, 2023, on tidal mud flats with friends in an Alaska estuary, got stuck up to his waist in the quicksand-like silt and drowned as the tide came in before frantic rescuers could extract him.
A channel flows through the mud flats along the Seward Highway and Turnagain Arm in Alaska in 2014.Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News via AP file

A man died in Alaska on Sunday after he got trapped waist-deep in tidal mud flats and was submerged by the incoming tide, state troopers said.

Zachary Porter, 20, of Illinois, got stuck in the mud flat in the Turnagain Arm at low tide near Hope on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, Alaska State Troopers said in a statement.

Porter was with three friends walking on the mud flat when he got stuck at 5:52 p.m., Alaska State Troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel said.

Rescuers were unable to free him before the tide came in and covered him, and Porter died at 6:43 p.m., the law enforcement agency said.

The Turnagain Arm is a body of water that has one of the fastest incoming tides in the world, McDaniel said. The silty mud flats are known locally to be extremely hazardous, he said.

“What looks like solid ground can turn into quicksand with little to no notice,” McDaniel said.

The group was around 50 to 100 feet offshore, off the Hope Highway, when Porter became stuck. A friend immediately called 911, McDaniel said. Porter's body was recovered Monday morning.

Rescues occur on the mud flats in the Turnagain Arm, but it’s been decades since there was a death there as far as state troopers are aware, McDaniel said.

The Girdwood Fire Department responded to assist in the local rescue, but were in transit when water covered the victim.

Girdwood Fire Chief Michelle Weston said that during mud rescues firefighters will use a penetrating nozzle around 5 to 6 feet long to inject water around a stuck person. Firefighters use backboards on the flat to have a stable platform to stand.

“As you get a body part free, you put that on the backboard and keep going,” she said.

Rescues can take 10 to 30 minutes or more, and they can be fighting against the fast tide. The water, no matter the time of year, can also cause victims to become hypothermic, Weston said.

“They lose their ability to help rescue themselves,” Weston said. Her fire department rescued a fisherman two weeks ago, and a surveyor in October, both of whom became stuck.

People are urged to stay off the mud flats, but if someone does become stuck they are urged to call 911 right away, McDaniel said.

“We would much rather hear that you were able to self-rescue and get out of there rather than waiting too long,” he said.