Indian Chief Dies in Washington State Canoeing Accident

An Indian canoe heading for an annual intertribal celebration overturned in windy weather, rough waves and chilly marine water, and a Canadian tribal chief from Vancouver Island died, authorities said.

All six people aboard the canoe were dumped into the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Wednesday off Dungeness Spit, Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said from Seattle. The strait runs between the island and the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state.

A man who died as the other five made their way ash ore was identified by Makah Tribal Chairman Ben Johnson as Chief Jerry Jack, 55, of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nations of Gold River, British Columbia.

The reason the canoe capsized and the cause of death were not immediately determined and an autopsy was pending.

Jack had been involved in the saga of Luna, a young killer whale who became separated from his pod and made his home at Gold River until he was killed by a boat propeller in March. Some Indians in the area said they believed Luna embodied the spirit of a dead chief.

A man and two women from the canoe were being evaluated at Olympic Memorial Hospital in Port Angeles and each "appears fine," nursing supervisor Ann Fischer said.

The other two people from the canoe apparently did not need hospital treatment or examination, Eggert said.

The Coast Guard received a report of the overturned canoe shortly before 6 p.m. and dispatched a helicopter and boat from Port Angeles, Eggert said.

The helicopter crew found five people on shore from the overturned canoe, the body of Jack, seven people from another canoe that was beached nearby and a Clallam County sheriff's deputy who responded to the initial call. The helicopter hoisted everyone to a nearby parking lot where emergency medical crews were waiting, Eggert said.

Eggert said none of those in the overturned canoe was wearing a life jacket.

He said conditions in the area included winds of about 35 mph, 5- to 7-foot seas and a water temperature of 54 degrees.

The death cast a pall over the annual summer's InterTribal Canoe Journey, which was started in 1989 as "Paddle to Seattle" and this year has the theme "Past and Present Pulling Together for Our Future."

The gathering runs from Monday, when the canoes are scheduled to arrive in Seattle, to the following Saturday and is being hosted by the Muckleshoot Tribe of Auburn, south of Seattle.

Canoeists paddling along the strait Tuesday to Hollywood Beach in Port Angeles had to battle brisk winds and rough water, the Peninsula Daily News reported.

Because of those conditions, many of the 16 canoes that came ashore at Hollywood Beach were hauled on trailers from Clallam Bay and Pillar Point to the Port of Port Angeles Boat Haven.

The canoeists then paddled a little more than a mile from the marina to Hollywood Beach, where they were officially welcomed ashore by Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles.

The strong winds Tuesday created swells as high as 6 to 8 feet, Polly McCarty, co-skipper on one canoe, told the newspaper.

Last Sunday, swells as high as 10 feet caused a canoe from the Nisqually tribe to tip and break, according the Canoe Journey's Web site. All of those crew members were rescued safely.