Willie Nelson (l) And Fred Andes (r) Narrowly Escaped With Their Lives When, While Fishing In Alaska, Their Small Boat Collided With A Whale. Photo Courtesy Willie Nelson.

Whale of a Tale: Lives of two Arizona Men Spared in Collision with Humpback

By Tina Scott

Willie Nelson (l) and Fred Andes (r) narrowly escaped with their lives when, while fishing in Alaska, their small boat collided with a whale. Photo courtesy Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson (l) and Fred Andes (r) narrowly escaped with their lives when, while fishing in Alaska, their small boat collided with a whale. Photo courtesy Willie Nelson.

A captain for the Phoenix Fire Department, Fred Andes of the Aspen Ward, Mesa Kimball East Stake, had never needed critical medical emergency himself, until last summer when he and his friend, Willie Nelson, of Gilbert, nearly died after colliding with a humpback whale.

“My story has nothing to do with me, but it has a lot to do with the Lord. He had a big part in the rescue,” Fred says.

For three weeks each summer, Fred and Willie go to a remote fishing camp that’s a 30-minute plane ride from Juno, Alaska. There, they work six hours a day repairing equipment and doing whatever is required. In turn, they get food, lodging, a fishing boat and all the necessary gear.

“We fish for about 10 hours a day. There’s not a lot of sleeping, it’s just a great time.”

Brother Andes describes the area as Disney-esque, with porpoise, sea lions, sea otters, eagles and whales.

“There’s a bit of everything going on around us,” he says. “All day while you’re fishing, you’re being entertained.”

            One day, they headed to open water, to a place called, “No Man’s Land.”

“At full-speed, it takes 45 minutes,” Fred says.

About half way, a humpback whale breeched the water directly in front of them.

“There wasn’t time to make a plan. The only thing we could do is turn hard to the right,” he said, counting the fact that they weren’t standing, as usual, as one of the many miracles that aligned to save their lives.

Willie was thrown from the boat and could have died in the frigid water. He was able to stay afloat until his rescue.

“There’s no doubt I had help,” Willie said. “I felt like someone was holding me up from underneath my arms.”

“I know the symptoms of chest injuries,” said Fred. “So I’m diagnosing myself as I’m trying to catch my breath and trying to be as calm as I can.”

He incurred 16 fractures in six ribs, a punctured lung and a ruptured spleen.

Friends came to where they were, without even knowing they were in distress. They happened to be in a boat with a back-lip.

“Out of 40 boats, only three have a back-lip,” said Fred. “Without it, they couldn’t have pulled Willie into the boat.”

“As we talk about the miracles, so many people and things come to mind,” Fred said. The owner of the camp was within five minutes of the wreck in a boat large enough to rescue both men; the coastguard was in the area; a float plane was nearby with a surgeon aboard; Fred was able to receive a priesthood blessing before boarding the plane; a great surgeon was in Juno that day.

Brother Andes credits the support of Aspen Ward members among the many tender mercies he experienced. They gave food, cards, desserts, emails and letters, a hospital bed rental and a car for his wife for the weekend.

“Trials aren’t fun, but, all along the way, we could see the Lord’s hand in it as though He said, ‘This is going to happen to you, but I’m going to make it so everything turns out okay,’” Fred said. “And I knew it would be okay. Heavenly Father loves us and is going to watch out for us.”

The Beehive

The Arizona Beehive is a complementary East Phoenix Valley LDS lifestyle and living publication, published six times a year, featuring content on people to meet, places to explore, events to attend and businesses to patronize.