Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Weather Turns Deadly...

Just another commercial fishing vessel sinking. Just another all-night search for a missing crewman. Just another storm in the Gulf of Alaska.

We received the Mayday relay from District Seventeen about 1000 this morning; a 59-foot longliner with 4 souls onboard was sinking, and the crew readying to take to their survival suits and raft. They were about 40 NM to the west of our position. The HH60 helo that was pre-deployed to Cold Bay for crab season SAR launched, and would beat us there.

We had spent the night slowly steaming southward, into the wind, gradually coming to starboard to follow the weather. Even so, the berthing areas became hellish places... everything that was not already tied down, and alot of stuff that was, came crashing to the deck. TVs, book cases, people. No one I talked to got more than 10 or 15 minutes of sleep at a time... and so in the morning, the ship's routine was not, but was quiet and slow. The deepfat fryer in the wardroom pantry sloshed it's contents out on the deck just after I got my breakfast... two fried eggs overhard and a scoop of cornedbeef hash.

When we got word of the Mayday, we had to come beam to the seas and things got worse. We were taking 25 to 30 footers, and doing some spectacular nosedives. I went to the bridge for a while, and we took spray to the windows, some 50 feet above the foc's'le, every 5 minutes or so. I went out onto the bridge wing in 40 knot gusts to take some pictures... very dramatic.

By the time we arrived at the location passed, the helo had already rescued one survivor, and picked up the bodies of two other crewmen. Nobody had gotten into their suits it appeared after all. No one made it into the raft.

We were joined in the search by a car carrier, the US-flag OVERSEAS JOYCE, and the US-flag container ship R. J. PFIEFFER. The sight of those two leviathans careening around the area in the seas was awesome. We were joined by a C130 flying out of Kodiak, and the four of us churned through the debris field and downwind, looking for whatever we might find.

We pulled two survival suits out of the water, empty of signs of use, as well as pulling the liferaft next to our hull... again, empty and devoid of any sign of use. The raft was thrashed from the seas, only partially inflated, the canopy not deployed. It was a bad sign.

We are continuing the search thru the night, and expect to be released after another first-light aircraft search of the area. The winds have died down as the low passed, and the seas are not as high, but are chaotic and sloppy. We are still rolling heavily. It has been a helluva day, and I am ready for bed.

The ocean swallowed another boat and her occupants, and it doesn't care.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't know all of the men, only one. He was looking for a better, more exciting life in Alaska, and temporarily found it. He was supposed to have traveled home to Tennessee for good 3 weeks earlier, but couldn't get a flight out due to weather. This was his last run, that he wasn't even supposed to be on, then he was headed off to welding school in Louisiana.

We spent a lot of time together years ago. After the final break in our relationship, he took off for Alaska. I never got to say goodbye, and this accident has hurt me deeply, and left me with lots of regrets.

At least he was doing something that he loved and took pride in. Unfortunately, the sea didn't care.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Ken Lawrenson said...

I am sorry for your loss.


10:32 PM  

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