Editor’s note: This article has been updated with more information about additional people who helped in the rescue.
Scott McCutcheon was enjoying a sunny Sunday on Mendenhall Lake when he heard the screaming.
McCutcheon turned to see a group of panicked skaters and bikers gathered around an area in the ice. He saw something poking up from the ice.
“All I saw was his bike helmet out of the ice,” McCutcheon said. “His bike, everything else was gone.”
Knowing someone had fallen into the frigid water, McCutcheon quickly changed course and skated over to the group.
Two high school students, 15-year-old Nikki Lahnum and 17-year-old Blake Bixby, had been the first to get over to Funk after he fell through, according to Lahnum’s mother Carol. As Lahnum talked to the biker — Bob Funk — to try and keep him calm, Bixby checked the surrounding ice and actually fell in up to his waist.
“I am very proud of what they did,” Carol Lahnum wrote in an email, “that they didn’t think twice to rescue someone, calm someone and in fact put their own lives at risk for others.”
Lahnum helped console Funk’s grandson, who was out biking with Funk, while Bixby continued to look for a way to help Funk.
Then, McCutcheon entered the fray.
You need two things when you’re out on the ice, McCutcheon says. You need a pair of short poles with spikes on the end of them so you can dig yourself out if you fall in. You also need a rope to throw to someone to help them out if they fall in. McCutcheon had just bought a new rope in November, and he was about to get to use it.
McCutcheon, 57, raced over to the area and navigated his way within about 20 yards. He didn’t want to go any closer. One person in the water was enough. McCutcheon pulled the rescue rope out of its red bag and took aim.
On his first throw, he hit Funk in the chest.
Funk grabbed ahold of the rope and started pulling himself up. As McCutcheon dug his skates into the ice, Bixby also grabbed the rope and helped pull Funk out.
Fairly quickly, Funk was able to pull himself out of the water. McCutcheon and Funk recognized each other — they had met through work years ago and have been acquaintances ever since.
“Juneau’s a small town,” McCutcheon said. “If you’re out, you’re going to end up seeing your friends or someone you know.”
Or in this case, you might help save your friend’s life.
Bursting with adrenaline, Funk was lucid and ready to get back to shore. Someone lent Funk a bike and Funk rode it back to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center where Capital City Fire/Rescue personnel were waiting.
Back at the hole in the ice, McCutcheon and a few others were able to get Funk’s bike out of the water. By the time they got the bike out, it was starting to get even more dangerous on the ice.
“At that point, because we’d been messing around on the ice for (a few) minutes, it was starting to feel like a trampoline,” McCutcheon said. “A crack went down between my legs. I looked up at the other gentlemen and I said, ‘I’m getting out of here.’”
Funk eventually was able to get his bike back, and said in an interview with the Empire on Sunday that McCutcheon “very probably helped save my life.”
McCutcheon’s wife Bobbi was home at the time. Scott told her the story when he got back, describing the experience as “emotional.” Bobbi said Scott wears a heart-rate monitor when he’s out exercising, and they looked at the record of Scott’s heart rate during the skate Sunday. His pulse leaped around the time he saw Funk in the ice, but immediately returned to normal, even as he was pulling Funk to safety.
Even more amazing to her, though, was the fact that Scott refused to go out on the ice without the rope. It took a while for him to finally find it among the Christmas items, he said. Without that delay when Scott couldn’t find the rope, Bobbi said, Sunday’s incident could have had a different ending.
“He spent 15 minutes looking for that rope because he couldn’t find it,” Bobbi said. “Had he found it right away, 15 minutes, he wouldn’t have been there. It just blows my mind that he was there at exactly the right time with exactly the right equipment.”
This #Juneau man made sure he brought his rescue rope to skate on Mendenhall Lake on Sunday. When a biker fell through the ice, a throw of the rope helped save the biker’s life. A preview here. More in tomorrow’s @JuneauEmpire. pic.twitter.com/gxxixVdDxK
— Alex McCarthy (@akmccarthy) January 9, 2019
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.