My hometown of
Besides being decidedly unpicturesque, the mud sucks. Literally. I have heard many cautionary tales of people getting stuck in the mud and drowning when the tide came in. The most dramatic of these stories goes like this:
Many years ago a man walking along the mud flats found himself sinking. His struggling only caused him to become stuck further until he was waist deep in the mud and the tide started to come in. He managed to yell for help but rescuers were unable to pull him out manually. As the tide rushed in, a helicopter came to assist. They tied a rope around his waist or under his arms and the helicopter pulled. The rope pulled taut and it looked like the man was going to finally be free of the mud when – pop- he was ripped in half, leaving this hips and legs in the mud and his upper body swinging wildly from the helicopter’s rope.
I’ve heard this story my whole life.
The question is this: is it true?
The answer is: yes and no.
Yes, the mud kills folks. Or more precisely, people get themselves killed by getting stuck in the mud; it’s like quicksand. Your feet will get stuck and struggling will make you sink deeper until you can quickly be up to your knees, by which time you will need assistance to get out. Quick assistance.
The other interesting thing about the Turnagain Arm area of
The urban legend about the helicopter likely stems from a true incident in 1961. A soldier from
In September 1988, a newlywed husband and wife on four-wheelers took off across the mud flats bound for “the other side of the inlet” on a mining expedition (they were clearly not the sharpest cheese in the chandelier to begin with). One of the ATVs became stuck in the mud less than two hundred yards from the beginning of their adventure. The wife hopped off the ATV and onto the mud to try and push the machine loose. She quickly became stuck. The husband worked for two hours by himself trying to free her, then called for help. Emergency response from the Anchorage Fire Department and the Alaska State Troopers came quickly but they could not dig her out in time. When the tide rushed in they could do little but watch her drown.
Since then the Anchorage Fire Department developed special procedures for handling the mud flats and have a whole range of tools to extract people from the mud including hovercraft, high pressure hoses, and special “moon boots” which distribute the weight of the rescuers so they will not be sucked into the mud themselves.
The flats are dotted with signs warning people of the dangers of walking on them. This does not deter people. When locals see tourists walking out on the flats, they usually yell at them to get the heck back to firm ground. People don’t listen. Last week a woman had to be rescued by the fire department. Just today the fire department had to go out and tell someone to move it on back to shore.
Perhaps this is the valuable thing about urban legends: true or not, the helicopter-ripping-a-guy-in-half story stuck with me (pardon the pun) and kept me off of the flats.
Maybe that’s why the Bible has been such a best-seller. It contains lots of stories, some of them completely absurd but most teaching us lessons worth learning.