Family members and spectators watch the recovery of Arnold Skeek from the end of the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor float in Auke Bay on Monday. Skeek, 27, was believed to have fallen off a boat anchored about a half mile outside the harbor on Aug. 14.

Family members and spectators watch the recovery of Arnold Skeek from the end of the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor float in Auke Bay on Monday. Skeek, 27, was believed to have fallen off a boat anchored about a half mile outside the harbor on Aug. 14.

Sonar cam helps locate fisherman’s body in Auke Bay

With her husband on one side and an aunt on the other, Cora Watkins bowed her head during a tear-filled prayer as she watched a boat half a mile away lift her younger brother out of the water where he rested at the bottom.

“I’ve been mourning him slowly since he left,” Watkins, 29, said as her youngest daughter played nearby. “She’s been asking me where her uncle is. It’s been hard.”

Watkins’ brother, Arnold Skeek, 26, is presumed to have fallen overboard on Aug. 14 while working on a vessel in Auke Bay. A 24-hour search that came up empty by the U.S. Coast Guard left the family searching for another way to bring Skeek home.

[Missing man’s sister: ‘My brother’s gone’]

Amy Meats, 28, another of Skeek’s sisters, said on Monday from Kake that her family and friends used the website GoFundMe to raise almost all of the money needed to pay a side scan sonar boat operator, Gene Ralston of Idaho, to travel to Juneau to help them recover Skeek’s body.

The estimated cost for Ralston’s services was $12,000, but he volunteered to work at a reduced rate. The state of Alaska also offered the family reduced prices for bringing over Ralston’s equipment on a ferry. In total, the family spent close to $6,000 on the recovery effort, Meats said.

On Monday, Ralston was able to find Skeek’s body about one hour after his search began. The body was approximately 140 feet below water and, using a remote operated vehicle, he was able to lift Skeek’s body to about 20 feet near the surface. Local commercial diver Alfie Cook then retrieved him.

Ralston, who said he’s been working with sonar instruments to find bodies lost in the water for almost 20 years, said Skeek’s body is the 109th he’s found.

“I’ve offered to take the rest of the family right out to the spot where we found him later this week, if they want to go out there one more time,” Ralston said. It’s a service he often offers those who want to say a final goodbye.

“Closure” is what Amy Meats said she felt when her sister Cora Watkins called from Juneau to tell her that their brother had been found. “It’s a really good feeling to know we can finally bring him home,” she said.

As Skeek’s body was lifted out of the water Monday afternoon, family members on a boat with the sonar device and family standing at the harbor called each other so they could pray in unison, thanking God for bringing their loved one home.

[Juneau police take over search for missing fisherman]

Juneau Police Department Lt. Scott Erickson was on the scene shortly after Ralston brought the body to shore. He said that the department will take charge of the body; JPD took over the case as a missing persons case after the Coast Guard ended their search unsuccessfully. Erickson said he could not immediately confirm the identity of the body recovered on Monday, but he said he felt confident that it was Skeek.

The next step for the police department is to send the body to Anchorage where the state’s medical examiner will perform an autopsy.

Cora Watkins described her brother as a loving person, someone each of her children adored, and someone who was always willing to help the family. He had been caring for their ailing father when he wasn’t working on a boat working as fisherman.

One of Skeek’s aunt’s at the harbor also said he was a loving father. Skeek left behind an 8-year-old son in Kake. Skeek’s aunt, who did not want to be identified, said Skeek and his son were extremely close and always engaged in outdoor activities when Skeek was in Kake.

Finding Skeek’s body and laying him to rest was especially important for the young boy, the aunt said.

“When his classes started last week, the teacher asked everyone about their summers. When they asked him about his summer, he just looked at her said ‘I just want them to find my dad,’ and looked away.”

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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Family members of Arnold Skeek watch from an open skiff, right, as Gene Ralston of Idaho uses his purpose-built boat to find and recovery Skeek's body about a half-mile in front of the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Monday.

Family members of Arnold Skeek watch from an open skiff, right, as Gene Ralston of Idaho uses his purpose-built boat to find and recovery Skeek’s body about a half-mile in front of the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Monday.

Gene Ralston of Idaho talks about finding and recovering Arnold Skeek's body about a half-mile in front of the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Monday.

Gene Ralston of Idaho talks about finding and recovering Arnold Skeek’s body about a half-mile in front of the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Monday.

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